After a year of preparation, on Wednesday 22nd of October the team set off to Portugal for the European Championships. With a combination of excitement and nerves, the team arrived at our hotel in a sunny and warm Maia. After settling in, that evening our sponsors surprised us with some new training tops and tracksuits, making us the smartest looking team in the competition!
The following day, the team made their first trip to our home for the next week, sports hall 2. After our first training session in the exhaustive heat, we all needed a jump in the pool to cool off! A friendly in the evening against England and a final training session on Friday got us all geared up for our first game.
After some pasta and a passionate speech by our coaches Beth and Steve, we were ready to start our European Championship. We had a nervous start, but we grew in confidence as the game went on. A low scoring game, 5-3 to Slovakia at half time, but we always believed we were going to win. A well-deserved 10-15 win to Scotland in the end with Angus scoring goals for fun! This meant that Angus led the scoring stats. Not bad for someone from Scotland after day 1.
The opening ceremony followed on the same evening, everyone was cheered up by Elliot’s post-match interview and singing and our amazing supporters – we received the biggest cheer of all teams when we entered the sports hall. Although we didn’t enter into the arena with Calvin Harris playing as planned, Mellow Yellow by Maryhill’s finest, Donovan had to be sufficient.
As a team we aimed to always be well prepared, this meant that the following day we analysed the previous game and worked on some attacking moves in training, which focussed on areas to improve and also looked at the potential weaknesses of our opponents. Based on the rankings, Hungary were the strongest team in our group so we knew it was going to be a tough match. A win would mean qualifications for the World Championships, so we had everything to play for. Lead by captain Mike and vice-captain Kyle we started off well, the game was very tight, 7 – 8 to Scotland at half time. A lot of Hungary’s goals came from free passes and penalties and, unfortunately, we struggled to stop giving them away. With 9 minutes to go it was only 16-15 to Hungary, but then they took a lead by a few goals which meant that we were always struggling to catch up. It was a very tough game to loose especially as we felt that we were so close to winning it and perhaps, should, have won it. A barometer of how far we have progressed in a short period of time.
On our day off we tried to cheer ourselves up a little bit with some surfing, swimming, shopping, and lunch at the beach before starting the preparations for our game against Ireland.
Our superb physiotherapists Remko and Claire were very busy, having to massage the whole squad, including coach Beth. In the evening, a must-win game for the Scotland team against Ireland. We were helped in our singing of ‘Flower of Scotland’ by our fantastic supporters, who, easily outnumbered opposition support at every game. We went on to win the game comfortably with 20 against 11 with a special mention to Morven and Zoe who drove their defenders mad and Ross who didn’t give his player an inch of space.
Second place in our group meant that we would play the third-ranked team of the other group, Turkey. We analysed their games and knew that they had some fast girls and would play re-bound defence. Another very close game resulting in a 6-7 lead to Turkey at half time. We kept believing we could win and fought till the end beating Turkey 15-13. A hard-fought win with Dan scoring a couple of important goals, Jo bagging her first goal for Scotland and Ella playing amazingly after just having recovered from food-poisoning, showing that the win and the tournament thus far was a real ‘team effort’. In the hotel we were allowed to have one celebratory drink in the hotel bar while playing another round of our favourite game ‘cards against humanity’. With everyone hoping to have the least tasteful trump card…
Next up, Germany, a team placed 8th in the world rankings and we found out why. A difficult game but we put in a decent performance against a very strong team. Jean made his official Scotland debut during this match was very unfortunate to have his great goal disallowed – at least there is proof on camera! Everyone got a chance to play against some of the best players in the world which was a good learning experience – even though it certainly didn’t feel like that at the time.
Another rest day filled with a trip to Porto, the zoo or shopping followed by watching England against Belgium.
For our final game for 11th place, an old rival awaited us again, Ireland. The goals weren’t dropping for us the first half, however, we showed that we had worked very hard to prepare for the Championships and we were the stronger team. ‘Better drilled…fitter…stronger than the Irish’ according to the IKF commentary. Another strong team performance with the girls destroying their Irish opponents and our supporters make more noise than anyone else!
Our final position of 11th is a great achievement for the squad, and a just reward for months and months of hard work and extra training.
While the team put in a lot of hard work, it is also appropriate to acknowledge and to thank our coaches, sponsors, phyios, supporters (both in Maia and at home) and everyone who has helped us in our preparations. Without you, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve this and we are very grateful for everyone who has helped us in our preparations.
Lastly, I would also like to thank everyone in the team; Kyle, Mike, Angus, Ross, Erik, Dan, Jean, Elliot, Natasha, Zoe, Morven, Emma, Jo, Ella and Becki for an amazing time! I am very proud to have been part of this fantastic Scotland squad.
Nicol van Rijkbroek