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ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE

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ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE


Celtic goalkeeper Megan Cunningham believes the success of the women’s World Cup can provide a real boost to the domestic game in Scotland

Interview: PAUL CUDDIHY

WOMEN’S football has gained centre-stage over the past month as the World Cup has taken place in France, culminating in Sunday’s final as the United States retained the trophy with a 2-0 victory over The Netherlands.

The tournament was an opportunity to showcase what the women’s game has to offer, and the teams competing did just that. The quality of the football on show, in terms of technique, athleticism, competitiveness and entertainment, was top-class, and it will no doubt have made many sceptics reassess their opinion of women’s football.

That will please both fans and players already involved, and the hope, particularly given the media platform the World Cup was given, is that it will generate even more participants throughout all levels and areas of the women’s game.

Celtic goalkeeper, Megan Cunningham, certainly hopes this will be the case. She has enjoyed the tournament, both as a TV viewer and a spectator, having travelled over to France to cheer on the Scotland team in their opening group-stage game against England.

While that game, and indeed Scotland’s participation, delivered disappointment and heartache, Cunningham believes their presence represents a great step forward for the game in this country.

“Scotland were very unlucky in the tournament, particularly with some of the decisions that went against them,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong – you can’t throw away a three-goal lead, but by the same token, I think we were very hard-done-by with some of the new rules that were implemented in this World Cup.

“I went over for the England game. It was a fantastic atmosphere and it was really good to see the girls playing. There were 13,000 fans there – most of them Scotland and England fans – and that’s a big turnout for a women’s World Cup game.

“I think there is going to be a real positive drive from this World Cup, and I hope it promotes the game and also gives girls an insight into the fact that being a female footballer is possible now. It’s not just a dream or wish. They’ve seen it and they can do it.

“It’s been nice turning on the TV every night and there’s been women’s football on BBC1, which is a massive platform.

“I’ve heard a lot of people, including a lot of guys, saying that they’ve found the games entertaining and an eye-opener for them and they’ve enjoyed watching it. Quite often, you get narrow-minded people who dismiss women’s football. I think the tournament has been superb and the quality of the football has been excellent.

“There’s been a lot of good football played and it’s been nice to see the women’s game getting praise and credit that has previously been lacking, particularly in the media. Positive media coverage is something that has not always been there over the past few years, so it’s nice to see these world-class players getting a platform to go and show what they’re capable of, and getting the praise for it.”

With the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in operation, Scotland suffered a dubious penalty decision in that opening game against England, and another controversial one in their last group-stage game against Argentina. The Scots were leading 3-0, knowing victory would put them through to the knockout stages.

However, after conceding two goals, they also saw Argentina win a last-gasp penalty. Goalkeeper Lee Alexander saved the initial kick, but a VAR ruling saw the penalty retaken, and Argentina scored to make it 3-3 and eliminate Scotland.

“I don’t see how the one against England was a penalty,” said Megan Cunningham, “and there were a few that weren’t given that looked more certain than that one was, in my opinion. It’s such a grey area with the handball rule.

“As for the Argentina game, I work with Lee Alexander. She’s a class goalkeeper and a class person, and I still can’t believe that decision. One of the first things you’re taught, as a goalkeeper, is taking that first positive step.

“It’s a shot from 12 yards out, so the player shouldn’t really be missing it, but this new rule is giving a further disadvantage to the goalkeeper.

“I know it’s been a test, and I understand that, but the women’s game always seems to be the guinea pig for these kind of things, and I don’t think that’s always a fair thing, particularly at a big tournament like the World Cup.

“I thought Scotland had a good tournament. They were up against teams who were higher-ranked than them, and everyone’s really proud of the team. And I think it will be really good for them going forward, both individually and collectively.

“If you’re a proper football fan, you’ll appreciate good football and at this World Cup, the girls have shown that. It’s been really positive, so I’m hoping that more people will go now to watch domestic games and be less judgemental about the standard of women’s football.

“It’s been nice for the opportunity to show that, and also that there was the platform there to let people see it, because that’s something which has been lacking in the women’s game – access to good quality games.”

CELTS HAVE TOP TWO IN THEIR SIGHTS

THE Celtic Women’s team are in the middle of their summer break, with the second half of the season due to resume on August 4 with a game against Rangers.

The squad has started back training in preparation for the resumption of competitive football, and still imbued with confidence from their 3-0 victory over Hibernian just before the break.

The Hoops are currently level on points with Hibs, though the Edinburgh side are just ahead in the table by virtue of a superior goal difference.

And as Megan Cunningham explains, the team are eager to push on into the top two positions.

“When the break came, we could have done with keeping that positive momentum we had going,” she said. “After the Hibs game, which was a really good result for us, it would have been nice to see if we could have pushed on from there.

“Our season runs for so long that the break is important for the girls, especially for those who aren’t full-time, because they’re managing full-time jobs or studying as well as playing, so sometimes a break is needed – for mental as well as physical wellness.

“We know now what we’re capable of. We’ve got over that hurdle of beating one of the top two, and that will give us good confidence going into the second half of the season. Hopefully we can pick up where we left off and push on from there.”


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