No side came closer to qualifying for UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ without making the finals than Scotland, beaten on away goals in their play-off against Russia. On Saturday they begin their 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup campaign in Greece, and Anna Signeul's side are tipped as the most likely challengers to Group 3 favourites Denmark, who narrowly beat Scotland twice in EURO qualifying. Signeul, who led her native Sweden to the 1999 UEFA European Women's Under-18 Championship title, has been in charge of Scotland since 2005 and is realistic about their chances of reaching a first major finals but is delighted with the progress being made.
uefa.com: Can you qualify for the World Cup?
Anna Signeul: We always have a chance. We've played Denmark many times, in the last qualifiers and a friendly a few weeks ago [lost 5-2] and we haven't been able to beat them yet. But now we are in a bit of transition. We've lost Shelley Kerr, a central defender, we need to replace her. We have some young players coming in but they are not experienced enough yet. Not having Julie Fleeting [all-time leading scorer who took time out of football to have a baby], we lack a leader on the pitch.
But it is a very promising team and I think we can do well and I hope Julie is coming back as well. Depending on how her training goes ... We have started an academy for the young players. They are motivated to train a lot – we just have to give them the support. We don't have so many players in Scotland, but the squad are very motivated and after that campaign they know it's possible.
uefa.com: When you spoke to us after the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ qualifying draw (click here), you said your main task was trying to improve the Scottish club game, how much progress has been made?
Signeul: In these four years, loads. When I came, Glasgow City and the other teams trained one or two times a week. Then the national team players had to train on their own – some did, some didn't. Now Glasgow City train five times a week, every evening, and that's a huge difference. Celtic, Spartans and Hibernian all train four nights a week. The best thing is when Glasgow want to push the barriers and say, 'We are the best,' now in Scotland you have Celtic, Rangers, even Hibs; these men's clubs come into women's football and they want to win. They will pick up and the more Glasgow put into it, the more Celtic put into it. Competition, that's why they have made progress.
uefa.com: You had a lot of media coverage, including live television, for your play-off against Russia. Can you maintain that interest?
Signeul: I think that was maybe one of the biggest drawbacks of not qualifying because it would have made a huge impact on the Scottish media. We were playing very well and it was a great commercial, though we lost 3-2 at home to Russia everyone said it was such a good game. And if we had qualified it would have made a huge impact because Scots love their football, but they love to win so we need to be successful.
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