Scotland got their European Championship qualifying campaign off to a flying start with a convincing and utterly dominant victory over Croatia at Oriam.
An unbelievable goal from Kimberley McAlpine and a neat finish from striker Morgan Cross gave Scotland a deserved lead in a first half in which Croatia rarely threatened.
The second half was a much more competitive affair, but in injury time Cross scored two goals in as many minutes to complete her hat-trick and secure a comfortable victory for her team.
From the first whistle Scotland were all over their opponents with midfielder Kaela McDonald setting the tone for her side’s relentless siege on the Croatia goal. Scotland’s opponents simply could not get out of their own half, with any attempts to play out from the back thwarted by the energy, strength and determination of McDonald and her midfielder partner Michaela Mcalonie.
Indeed, it was McDonald who had her side’s first effort of the game as her shot from range was tipped wide of the post by Croatian goalkeeper Nensi Adamović. From the resulting corner McDonald rose highest but didn’t get the required contact on the header as it sailed wide.
Croatia weren’t helping themselves by sitting back and inviting pressure on their goal and it wasn’t before long until Scotland made them pay. In the twelve minute McAlpine picked the ball up in her right back position. Assuming that it would be impossible to score from so far out, the Croatian midfield sat off and watched as McAlpine wandered forward with the ball before unleashing a fierce shot from 45 yards which sailed into the top right corner of the net.
Wave after wave of Scotland attacks followed. Megan Robb and Leah Eddie tried their luck but captain Amy Muir, who had done well to cut in from the right, came closest with a curling, left footed shot that was well saved by Adamović.
In the 32nd minute, shortly after Croatia had their first effort on goal and Scotland goalkeeper Kiera Gibson had her first touch of the ball, Scotland doubled their lead. After the initial cross from the right wasn’t cleared by the Croatia defence, the ball fell to McDonald on the edge of the box. Her low shot was blocked and as the Croatian defenders dallied on the ball, Cross stole in to score her first of the game.
After the break Scotland continued to work tirelessly. They were intense and never gave their opponents a moments peace. Almost from the restart, a Scotland clearance turned into a good ball over the top as Cross, rather than giving up on a lost cause, chased the ball down before accelerating past a defender. With the angle closing, Cross tried to lift her shot over the goalkeeper but her effort was tipped over the bar.
Croatia were yet to create a clear cut opportunity in the game but Scotland were given a wake-up call in the 48th minute. Following good work down the right of the pitch, a deep cross was delivered towards the back post. Scotland’s defenders must have been ball watching because no one had noticed the run of Croatia’s left back Janja Čanjevac. Had the unmarked defender’s first touch been better, Scotland could have been in trouble. Instead, Čanjevac’s touch was too heavy and the ball ran harmlessly out of play.
As time ran out, Croatia threw more players forward in search of the goal that would bring them back into the game. As a result, space opened up across the pitch and the game started to flow from end to end. Scotland’s back four of McAlpine, Nicole Cameron, Leah Eddie and Lindsey Blues did well to extinguish any danger, but in the centre of the park McDonald continued to be imperative in turning defence into attack. She won the ball back from the Croatian midfield countless times and was always clever when picking a forward pass.
In midfield Kirstie McIntosh was having a growing influence on the game and with the game drawing to a close, she started the move which led to Scotland’s third goal. Collecting the ball 25 yards from goal, McIntosh looked up to see the run of substitute Abby Callaghan before playing an inch perfect slide rule pass that split the defence. Callaghan reached the ball on the by-line, took a touch and then cut the ball back to the six yard box where Cross was waiting to fire a first time shot into the roof of the net.
Only stoppage time remained when Scotland scored their third goal, but they weren’t finished yet. Again it was McDonald that led the press by chasing and harrowing the Croatian defence into their own corner. After robbing the ball off a Croatian defender, McDonald drove into the box before pulling it back to the onrushing Callaghan. Her shot was saved by the goalkeeper but only parried as far as Cross who finished emphatically from a tight angle.
It completed her hat-trick and rounded off a fine Scotland performance. One that will give them great confidence heading into their next game against Kazakhstan on Wednesday.