Anna Signeul defends Scotland squad after damaging defeat

Erin Cuthbert (No.	8) celebrates pulling Scotland level in the second half. Pic: Maja Hitij/Getty Images
Erin Cuthbert (No. 8) celebrates pulling Scotland level in the second half. Pic: Maja Hitij/Getty Images
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Anna Signeul refused to single out individual mistakes as Scotland fell to their second defeat in two UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 games when being edged out by Portugal in Rotterdam.

Goals from Carolina Mendes and Ana Leite either side of Erin Cuthbert’s fine effort consigned Signeul’s side to a second consecutive loss in Group D.

Scotland were on top for large periods of the game, but decisive moments at both ends of the pitch cost them dearly.

Vaila Barsley’s mis-hit clearance allowed Mendes to steal in for the opener minutes before the break, while lone striker Lana Clelland missed two gilt-edged chances to put the Scots ahead in the opening stages.

However, while Signeul was philosophical in defeat, she admitted the absence of key players from the starting XI made it harder for the team.

“Everyone was very disappointed afterwards,” said Signeul. “But we’re a team, we’re not blaming individual players in any way. We lose as a team and that’s important.

“Lana did very well, but of course we are missing all these players, they are starting players for us and the players who are coming on are doing very, very well.

“But we should have scored early in this game, we should have been up after 15 minutes.”

Hibs’ Rachel McLauchlan and and Kirsty Smith, and Clelland awere handed starting berths at the expense of Frankie Brown, Chloe Arthur and the injured Jane Ross as Signeul tweaked her line-up.

Scotland had the better of the opening period, with the drive and energy of Fiona Brown on the flank and the forward-thinking tendencies of full-backs Smith and McLauchlan proving fruitful.

On 16 minutes, Caroline Weir ghosted into space down the left before cutting infield and firing goalwards. Patricia Morais between the Portugal sticks got down well, but could only claw it out to Clelland. However, the 24-year-old kicked thin air with the goal gaping, and saw her second attempt rebound wide off the upright.

Ten minutes later, she was penalised for handball after Brown’s dinked pass found her in space at the far post, following tidy build-up play from Lisa Evans and Weir.

Where Scotland failed to take their chances at one end, Portugal pounced at the other, with their only decent sight of goal in the first 45 minutes.

A raking ball down the left from player-of-the-match Dolores Silva found namesake Diana, who jinked this way and that before crossing towards Mendes in the middle.

Barsley was covering, but spurned her clearance, leaving Mendes the simple task of slotting home past Gemma Fay, and sparking wild Portuguese celebrations.

Portugal started the second half confidently, but could not capitalise despite having the better of the play. And midway through the second period, Scotland were level. Cuthbert, on for Clelland, found space inside the box and tucked the ball beautifully past Morais into the far corner.

However, Scotland’s joy was short-lived. Four minutes later, substitute Leite raced on to a through ball, outpacing Barsley and steering the ball beneath the onrushing Fay.

Scotland pushed and probed, and came within millimetres from drawing level for a second time with five minutes to go.

Cuthbert’s incisive run and centre set up Weir, who created half a yard of space with a neat shuffle, but her fierce effort from eight yards crashed back off the post.

Portugal held on, weathering a frantic Scotland wave of attacks in the final moments, and ensured they have a good platform to build on in the final game against England.

On another day, the result could have easily gone Scotland’s way, and Signeul was left to rue the tiny fractions that went against the team in blue at Het Kasteel.

“I think we definitely deserved something better than we got,” she said. “We should have been up 2-0 in the first half, but unfortunately we couldn’t put the ball in the net.

“It was an unlucky first goal against us too, which put us on the back foot in the game. It’s always important in these games to score the first goal.

“However, I must say, I am proud of the players in trying to overcome not having the marginals on our side, which we haven’t had since we qualified.”

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