Conflict of interest hangs over England’s showdown with Scotland

Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters

England travel to Glasgow on Tuesday with the strangest of propositions, needing a win against a team who will do anything to beat them but some of whose players stand to benefit from England’s progression from their Nations League group.

Scotland’s predicament is not a predicament, in that none of their players would contemplate defeat to England in any circumstances. Yet that Scotland players could be included in a Team GB squad at next summer’s Paris Olympics, were England to earn a qualifying spot, creates an interesting conflict of interests.

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It is a quirk caused by England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland competing separately usually but having to come together as Team GB for the Olympics. And with England selected as the nominated team that can earn Olympic qualification on behalf of all four, they will need to beat Scotland at Hampden Park on Tuesday night to have any chance of advancing, with only the group leaders progressing.

It is a new problem, with the inaugural Nations League determining Olympic qualification. Previously, the nominated team had to finish as one of the top two European sides at the World Cup to qualify for the Olympics. England and Scotland were paired against each other in Group D of the 2019 World Cup, but the importance of a strong showing on the biggest stage overshadowed any Olympic qualification aspirations.

How fair is it then on the Netherlands and Belgium, who could both still top the group and head into the Nations League finals ahead of England, that the Lionesses play Scotland when they need a big win to top the group?

The Netherlands coach, Andries Jonker – pictured standing next to his England counterpart, Sarina Wiegman – has been critical of the ‘strange’ quirk of circumstances surrounding England’s and Scotland’s Nations League closer. Photograph: Marcel ter Bals/DeFodi Images/Getty Images

The Netherlands manager, Andries Jonker, pointed to the problem after their 3-2 defeat to England at Wembley on Friday night left everything to play for going into the final round of fixtures. “When the draw was made, I said to the players: ‘The only thing we can do is keep this in our hands.’ Straight away, it was annoying, but it wasn’t going to change,” he said.

Knowing that an England win is the route to the Olympics, Beth Mead said: “I think we’ll concentrate on ourselves. We’re the team nominated, we want to win the game, we want to score goals so that’s our aim.”

England have a goal difference gap to close, trailing the Dutch by three: should the Netherlands beat Belgium 1-0, then Sarina Wiegman’s team would need to beat Scotland by four goals.

Throw into the mix that the Scotland goalkeeper Sandy MacIver swapped countries, playing in one international friendly for the Lionesses’ senior side before making her debut for her new team on 31 October, and the narrative gets more interesting.

Should Uefa step in and say that these teams cannot be drawn against each other in Nations League groups or matches in future? Possibly. With four teams involved it could become a logistical nightmare. However, it was confirmed on Friday that Scotland and Wales will be relegated to League B while Northern Ireland earned a place in the playoffs for promotion to League A, so the likelihood of all four being drawn against each other is slim.

More likely is that the nature of the Olympics changes, which would make the problem at senior level go away. Despite the pride players feel at being Olympians and competing in a multisport tournament, there is increasingly a clamouring, in Europe at least, for women’s football at the Olympics to become an under-23 tournament. That would bring it in line with the men’s tournament and alleviate some of the pressure on the schedules of senior international teams and their players.On Friday, England were forced to come from 2-0 down with goals by Georgia Stanway, Lauren Hemp and Ella Toone after Lineth Beerensteyn’s first-half double for the Netherlands.

“The first half let us down,” said Mead.

“We were chasing the game and you don’t want to be 2-0 down at half-time. But we had the belief in the team, we knew we could score goals and we came out in the second half and the team was amazing. Every single person on the pitch and every player that came on is a gamechanger. Now we’ve got to do that for 90 minutes and be more consistent throughout the next game.”


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