SCOTLAND will be boosted by the return of Kim Little when they embark on the final phase of their Group 4 World Cup qualifying campaign at Fir Park this evening.
Anna Signeul’s side take on the Faroe Islands before travelling to Gothenburg for the last game against Sweden on Wednesday night. Although outright qualification for Canada looks unlikely, any sort of a win today would guarantee Scotland one of the play-off places reserved for Europe’s four best group runners-up.
Little was with her club side, Seattle Reign, when Scotland played their last two friendlies, both 1-1 draws, against Wales and Portugal. Although the absence of Potsdam striker Lisa Evans with shin splints is a blow, Signeul hopes that the availability of the side’s star player will convert abundant possession in the two friendlies into goals.
The coach is likely to try a new 4-3-1-2 formation as her side looks for a repeat or better of the 7-2 scoreline in Torshavn 12 months ago. She may play Jo Love, normally a midfielder, alongside Jane Ross up front with Little in her favoured position behind them.
“If we have one of the best footballers in the world on the pitch, we want to play a system which suits her,” Signeul pointed out. “In a 4-4-2 Kim plays as a forward or central midfielder – where she is invaluable against better teams because she can win the ball and set up attacks – but we will look at something different this time.
“Kim looks fantastic in training. She was fit before she went to America, but we have done tests and she has developed a lot over there. I have never seen her as fit as she is now.”
Little had an outstanding first season in Seattle, and was recently nominated MVP (most valuable player) in the National Women’s Soccer League. She also collected the Golden Boot after scoring 16 goals in 23 games and won an unprecedented three player-of-the-month awards.
“To play in America was my biggest ambition,” the 24-year-old, who was previously at Hibs and Arsenal, said ahead of today’s game. “Last year felt like the right time to do it, and I think that has been proved correct.
“As well as the football I’ve had a lot of fun and met some great people. Seattle itself is a gorgeous city on the water.”
Little’s PFA agent is likely to have been inundated with offers from clubs in England, Germany, France and Australia to join them on loan before the new American season gets underway next year. However, despite being tempted by Australia, she says her gut feeling is to stay in London – her boyfriend, Tom Pett, plays for Stevenage – and keep fit by training with a club there.
If Scotland don’t qualify for Canada automatically, and assuming they beat the Faroes today, they will face up to four play-off matches in October and November. That has been a factor in Little’s decision, especially after the previous two European Championship play-offs when Scotland lost out by the narrowest of margins.
Sweden are also in action today, hosting Bosnia-Herzegovina. The outcome of that game will be known before the Scotland one starts – as well as being three points behind the group leaders, Scotland also have an inferior goal difference. Signeul says she will decide nearer kick-off whether or not to tell her players what they need to do to haul back the four-goal divide.
As well as today’s game marking Little’s 100th appearance, there will be presentations beforehand to Gemma Fay, Love and Megan Sneddon. They passed the 175, 150 and 125 cap-marks respectively in recent away games.