Scotland Under-19s came within one win of a place at this summer’s UEFA Under-19s European Championships in Armenia, as Billy Stark’s side found themselves muscled out of contention by group winners Portugal in their final UEFA Elite Round match.
A 3-1 victory over Turkey in their opening fixture had seen the squad get off to the best possible start, with Zak Rudden, Robbie Deas and Jack Burroughs all on target for Stark’s men.
Rudden then stole the show in the side’s second match, grabbing a hat-trick and setting up a Glenn Middleton strike in a 4-0 win against Cyprus.
However, the side was unable to get the better of defending champions Portugal in their final group fixture, a result which saw their qualifying campaign ended at the final hurdle.
“You’re always going to be disappointed when you miss out at the last stage,” said Stark.
“However, when we reflect on the overall trip and how the players applied themselves in the three games, we’re delighted with their attitude and their performances.
Unreal performance from the boys thanks to them got my first hatty for Scotland ⚽️💙 https://t.co/t3gqLSicFC— Zak Rudden (@zakorudden) March 23, 2019
“It was always going to be a big ask against Portugal – they’re the defending champions, they’re at home and have such a good pedigree in this competition. I thought we acquitted ourselves though. Obviously the game didn’t pan out the way we’d hoped with having to play 35 minutes with just nine men, but we dug in well.
“Expectations are never higher than the expectations we place on ourselves. To come through a tough Qualification Round and then get to one game away from being at the finals is a great achievement. Our aim now is to be back at this stage more often and to take that final step.”
Meanwhile, Scotland Under-17s head coach Brian McLaughlin says the experience gained from his side’s UEFA Elite Round campaign will stand his players in good stead, after bowing out of the competition on home soil.
A UEFA Elite Round group containing Portugal, Russia and Poland proved a step too far for McLaughlin’s men, who – despite battling well in each match – found themselves beaten out in their search for a place at this summer’s UEFA Under-17s European Championships in the Republic of Ireland.
Group winners Portugal proved too strong for Scotland in their opening match of the group, with two first-half goals settling the tie in favour of the visitors in Paisley.
A tough second fixture then saw Scotland fall 3-0 to Russia at the same venue, before an 82nd minute equaliser from Thomas Dickson-Peters saw McLaughlin’s side claim a share of the points in a 1-1 draw with Poland at Firhill.
“It was a really challenging week for us against some top opponents,” said McLaughlin.
“Portugal – I believe – is the best team in Europe and Russia and Poland are good sides as well, so we knew it would be tough. For us, it was good to give the young players experience at that level and I’m sure the experience will benefit them going forward.
“The whole experience, including playing at home, was a challenge for them, but the next time that happens they’ll be better prepared as players.
“Short-term our next step will be to debrief the last couple of weeks. We know some things didn’t go so well, but there were also a lot of things that did go well. For us, it’s all about collaborating as a group of internal staff and then relaying that back to clubs. A lot of these players will now go on to the under-19s with Billy Stark, with Stuart McLaren handing the next batch on to me from the under-16s.
“It’s all about building for the next campaign now.”
Scotland Women’s Under-17s were also unable to progress to their respective finals tournament this summer, after suffering three defeats from their three UEFA Elite Round fixtures in Edinburgh.
Pauline MacDonald’s side found themselves overpowered by six-time champions Germany in their opening match, going down 5-0 at Oriam.
That result was then followed by a brace of narrow losses, as a 1-0 defeat to Norway was followed by a loss by the same score to the Republic of Ireland in a closely-fought final group match at Ainslie Park.
Despite the results, MacDonald believes that her side can take great heart and confidence from each of their performances in the Elite Round.
“If I compare this team’s performances to last year, there’s been such an improvement in the last twelve months,” she said.
“Our aim was to be able to compete against high-quality opposition, which we did with perhaps the exception of the first-half against Germany. We grew into that match well though.
“The match against Norway was a tough one to take, then going into the Republic of Ireland match we were contending with a few injuries and suspensions and wanted to give other players game time. We were disappointed with the goal we conceded, but we know that with more composure in possession we could very well have won that game.
“”We’re on the right track, especially with our Regional performance Hubs. They allow us to get more players into better physical condition and to improve technically. We’re still slightly behind other nations, but we’ll be looking to get more players into the system going forward.
“We’ll be able to take great confidence away from this – we performed well in all three games and there are positives to take forward. There is still more to come from the players.”