SCOTLAND striker Jane Ross will be hoping for bragging rights over eight of her Manchester City team-mates when the opening Euro 2017 Group D game is played at the Stadion Galgenwaard in Utrecht tomorrow night.
Three of these players, including captain and central defender Steph Houghton, are expected to line up in the England back four. They will heavily outnumber Ross, who will spearhead Scotland‘s 4-1-4-1 formation.
It’s going to be a night of heavy running for the 27-year-old from Rothesay, especially as her side travelled to the Netherlands tournament without four of their best players, including star midfielder Kim Little and another Manchester City defender, Jen Beattie. A fifth player, Glasgow City’s Hayley Lauder, has also been ruled out of Scotland’s first ever game in a major championship because of a minor hamstring tear.
Ross scored the second goal the last time Scotland played England, a Cyprus Cup game back in 2013. The match was a classic, ending 4-4, and Ross says: “From my experience of playing England it has always been close games. That game swung both ways, but this time we have different squads and I think it will be an enjoyable match.
“In terms of their ranking, England are now up there with the top teams. I’ve been feeling good in training and we’ll respect them – but won’t fear them.
“We have a good squad, so we’ll go out there to perform to the best of our ability. If we can get that right we’ve got a good chance.”
England, who were runners-up in Euro 2009, had a really poor tournament in Sweden four years ago, finishing bottom of their group. One consequence was the removal of long-time head coach Hope Powell and the installation of Mark Sampson, with the new man leading England to third place in the 2015 World Cup in Canada.
One of Sampson’s first acts was to make Houghton his captain, and Ross says of her team-mate and tomorrow night’s direct opponent: “She’s obviously a top-class player. She’s very good for our club and England as well, so I’m sure she’ll be looking to make it as difficult as possible for us.”
Ross will have her family and friends in attendance tomorrow night, while many more will watch the game in the pub which the family run in Rothesay. And she admits playing England in Scotland’s first match in a major tournament will be the pinnacle of her career so far.
“It’s amazing,” she smiles. “You can see from everyone’s faces that they’re loving every minute of being here. We’ve finally achieved our goal after so many near misses.
“There was a lot of banter with my England team-mates when the draw was made and for a few months afterwards, but recently all my focus has been on the national team.”
Ross scored her 50th Scotland goal last month in the friendly against Romania at Falkirk Stadium. She is only the second Scot, after Julie Fleeting, to reach that landmark and also has 106 caps. Her achievements prove what hard work can achieve, because she wasn’t one of Scotland’s better players at Under-19 level.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, meanwhile, and the squad’s youngest player, Erin Cuthbert, are hoping for very special birthday celebrations.
Both were born on July 19 and Sturgeon, the team’s patron, will be at the match. Chelsea midfielder Cuthbert turns 19 and could start the game or come on from the bench.
Sturgeon, who is 28 years older, said: “As the proud patron of the national women’s football team I cannot think of a better way to spend my birthday than to cheer them on for this very important game against England.
“It is a fantastic achievement for them to become the first Scottish team in almost 20 years to make the finals of a major tournament. It is real privilege for me to be able to watch them in Utrecht and I know the whole country will be rooting for them.”
Cuthbert, who joined Chelsea from Glasgow City in the winter, said: “I’m excited about the prospect of facing England and hopefully it will be a birthday to remember.
“However, I’m not really focusing on that just now – it’s all about the big game. Afterwards I can think more about it and see my mum and dad, who are coming over.”
Meanwhile, head coach Anna Signeul has revealed that she and her players have been inundated with messages of support.