Manchester City star Caroline Weir opens up on pressure facing Scotland squad and loss of legend Kim Little

Regardless of how well or how poorly Steve Clarke's Scotland side perform in Vienna tonight, it's unlikely to have a major impact on how enthusiastically men's football will be supported in a nation that is completely obsessed with the sport. Passions may dip and attendances may dwindle, but it won’t be long until we all get ourselves into a frenzy again at the next sign of future promise.

Caroline Weir (right) knows it'll be tougher for Scotland without Kim Little (centre) but believes there's still enough quality to qualify. Picture: SNS

The women's team, on the other hand, may not draw as many eyes and certainly won't face as much criticism if they fall short, but it's a different kind of pressure facing them ahead of the World Cup qualification campaign which begins later this month. For you see, resting on their shoulders is the growth of women's football in this country.

Qualification to the Euros in 2017 and the World Cup two years later finally saw thousands of Scotland supporters become enthusiastic and familiar with the women's game. The dramatic and heartbreaking 3-3 draw with Argentina in the final group match at France 2019 seemed to have the whole country talking the following morning.

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Since then, however, there is a feeling the interest hasn't been fully capitalised on, with Scotland legend Rose Reilly just one observer who's accused the Scottish FA of failing to build a legacy from those two qualification triumphs.

Accelerating the game

The governing body has responded with the Accelerate Our Game initiative, but the players are under no illusions: there's no greater way to influence current and future generations than having a winning team that's worth rooting for.

Having suffered the disappointment of failing to qualify for the Euros last time around, despite entering the group as highest seeds, they know they have to perform if they want to keep the momentum going.

"It's massive for not just the players but for women's football in Scotland,” said Manchester City midfielder Caroline Weir. “You saw when we qualified for the Euros it brought more attention and bumped us up a level, then the World Cup was even bigger than that. The better you are the more people are interested and the more people are looking to invest.

A dejected Caroline Weir after Finland defeated Scotland 1-0 at Easter Road to end all hope of making Euro 2022. Picture: SNS

“We know that's where we have to be to continue to grow the game, to inspire girls and boys to see their national women's team doing well in tournaments. So there definitely is a little added pressure because we've seen what it can do from the last two tournaments.

The future

“It's easier to follow a team when they're winning. You saw that with the men's team qualifying for the Euros. It got the whole country on board. With the women's game we're playing catch up, especially in Scotland. I see it in England when the Lionesses do well how much it grows the game, not just internationally but domestically with the Women’s Super League (WSL) as well.

“We know we need to be there to inspire that next generation. We do put pressure on ourselves. There should be an expectation for us to qualify, even if we missed out on the Euros. We're good enough and experienced enough to compete at that level.”

Kim Little announced her retirement from international football last week. Picture: SNS

Scotland will be led by a new face in the dugout with Pedro Martinez Losa taking charge of his first game when the squad make the trip to Hungary a week on Friday for the first match in Group B. The Spaniard, who Weir worked with for a season at Arsenal earlier in her career, is expected to bring a brand of expansive and possession-based football that should be easy on the eye.

Goodbye Kim

However, the 45-year-old learned just last week he’ll be without the services of one of Scottish football’s greatest ever talents, Kim Little. The legendary midfielder, who racked up 140 caps and 59 goals, decided to retire from the international scene to concentrate on her remaining years in the domestic game, where she’s an influential star for Arsenal in the WSL.

Weir, who was alongside Little as the only two Scottish representatives for Team GB at this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, had an inkling her friend was considering retirement, but it was still a disappointment to hear the news.

New Scotland boss Pedro Martinez Losa after winning the Women's FA Cup with Arsenal in 2016. Picture: SNS

"I didn't know it was going to come at this time. She'd mentioned it. We spoke a lot when we were away at the Olympics about our careers but she never said she was planning on doing it,” revealed Weir. “I think she's taking a lot of time to reflect and decided this is the right time.

“I'm happy for her because she's had such a great international career, but as a team-mate I'm obviously gutted because she's such a great player. She brings so much to the national team on and off the pitch. She can do a bit of everything in midfield and as another midfielder she's a joy to play with. I'm definitely going to miss her.”

Ms Professional

As a key mentor in Weir’s early days with the national team, the two grew a friendship as reserved kindred spirits in the typically boisterous nature of a football dressing room, something the 26-year-old is going to miss.

“She's been a great influence,” Weir added. “When I first broke into the Scotland team I looked up to her because she's a great player. She's quite quiet as well, so I could relate to her because I've got a similar personality. She just went about her business, she wasn’t overly loud, so I felt we had a lot in common. As the years have gone by we've got closer, especially after sharing the Olympic experience in the summer.

“I text her the other day. She was saying she was so proud that the Olympics was her last international experience. It was a great honour to play in that team alongside Kim. I'm just sad we won't be doing it again for Scotland.”

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Caroline Weir is a proud ambassador of McDonald’s Fun Football. To find your local session head to www.mcdonalds.co.uk/football

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