Scotland Women: Anna Signeul's side face crunch time in Sweden

By Cheri BurnsBBC Scotland
Scotland's women enjoyed a day to remember as they saw off the Faroe Islands 9-0 at Fir Park
Scotland's women enjoyed a day to remember as they saw off the Faroe Islands 9-0 at Fir Park

After almost a year, and nine matches, this is it; the final group-stage tie of Scotland women's quest to reach the 2015 World Cup.

The titans of Group 4 - Anna Signeul's Scots and Sweden - go head-to-head on Wednesday as they vie to seal a place among the countries heading to Canada next year.

With the two preparing to round off a battle that has gone to the wire, the stage is set and finely poised for a pulsating fixture.

And, while Scotland's backline has been one of their stand-out areas so far, all eyes will be on the strikers this time around.

The travelling contingent will be looking towards the firepower of Jane Ross to steer them closer to their major tournament bow.

Playing her domestic football with Vittsjo GIK in the Swedish Damallsvenskan, the 24-year-old's 13 goals, making her one of the most prolific attackers in the competition, have helped keep the national side hot on the heels of Pia Sundhage's squad.

Jane Ross makes it 5-0 to Scotland
Striker Jane Ross bagged a hat-trick as Scotland beat the Faroe Islands 9-0 at Fir Park on Saturday

The Swedes will also be hoping a forward rich in form produces on the night.

At 30 years old, Lyon's Lotta Schelin is one of the more experienced names who will be on show, and she has led the line by example, scoring 11 times in qualifying to date.

Going into the crucial match in Gothenburg, the Scots could not have dreamt of a better run when the campaign kicked off in September 2013.

After opening with a 7-2 humbling of the Faroe Islands, the bar was set and expectations high - and Signeul's players have not disappointed.

Throughout, they have proved themselves to be a strong, committed and talented unit, racking up 24 points, and losing only one game in the process.

But, as we approach the final stretch, it is perhaps that single defeat which will be playing on minds more than anything else, as it came in the reverse fixture to this, the last foray against table-topping Sweden.

From the outset, it was apparent that Sundhage's charges would be the side to beat.

Fifth in the Fifa world rankings - 16 places above Scotland - and under the stewardship of a coach who, while in charge of the USA, won two Olympic gold medals and led the side to the World Cup final, they have proven themselves to be more than capable of jousting with the elite.

Sitting undefeated, and having recorded impressive wins including the 4-0 defeat of Northern Ireland, the Swedes have looked comfortable throughout the campaign.

Sweden's women celebrate at Fir Park
Sweden's women secured a crucial 3-1 win over Scotland earlier in the 2015 World Cup qualifying campaign

Their calibre was something that Signeul's squad witnessed to their cost when the sides met at Fir Park in June.

Despite putting up a valiant fight, in the end the gap between the teams showed.

The visitors were sharper, more clinical and assured, and came away with a 3-1 victory that leaves them in pole position to emerge from the group as winners.

But, Scotland's hopes are far from over.

After a 9-0 hammering of Faroe Islands at the weekend, they have boosted their goal difference significantly, and know if they can equal Sweden's 3-1 win a Fir Park then first place will be theirs.

Sweden will be approaching the do-or-die match in good spirits, following a comfortable 3-0 victory over Bosnia and Hercegovina.

Both camps are all too aware of the significance of the encounter that lies ahead.

For the winner, an automatic pass to play amongst the world's finest at next summer's showpiece.

For the side that comes off second best, another challenge awaits, as they enter the difficult play-off stages.

While Signeul has instilled a confidence and character in her crop that means they would take on any opposing 11 with vigour and the will to come out victorious, there can be no denying the benefits that securing top spot would bring.

Not only would it mean avoiding further run-outs, thus allowing more time for preparation for the grandest test of them all, but qualifying at the first time of asking would also send out a message to the other competing countries.

Rachel Corsie scores to make it 6-0 to Scotland against the Faroe Islands at Fir Park
Rachel Corsie scores to make it 6-0 to Scotland against the Faroe Islands at Fir Park

It would exemplify the threat they possess and, perhaps most importantly, give her players a huge morale boost and mental advantage, before what would undoubtedly be the most important period of many of their careers so far.

In Gothenburg on Wednesday, the key contributions on the field may well come from one of their busy attackers, but the outcome is sure to be as much defined by the opposing coaches.

Signeul and Sundhage bear many similarities that go beyond their birthplace.

The coaches have risen through the ranks of the sport and taken their respective teams to a new level, while also exhibiting positive, attacking philosophies, which have paid dividends.

And, when the compatriots square up to each other for the most crucial fixture of them all, both can be sure that, no matter who clinches the title of Group 4 winners, they have overseen squads that have provided a scintillating advert for women's football, and deserve their name to be on the World Cup schedule in 2015.