Shelley Kerr has named her latest Scotland squad but the national manager says the task is getting tougher.
With only three games remaining before the final World Cup squad is decided, Kerr has made two changes to the group that finished fifth at the recent Algarve Cup, as she tries to find answers to her remaining questions.
The team will take on Chile and Brazil in Spain next month before hosting as yet unnamed opponents in the final warm-up fixture in May, and while the South American challenge allows her players to test themselves against a different style of football and broaden their knowledge, it also gives Kerr another opportunity to weigh up the merits of individuals who are desperate to be included when the nation makes its World Cup finals debut in France, in June.
“Chile and Brazil will be different for us and it is exciting but the players are causing us a real headache now,” she said. “It is tough. They are really, really tough decisions we are having to make. It is a good headache to have, though.
“What we’ve said all along is that we want a competitive environment and it is all credit to the players and their clubs, that they are making it very difficult. But I’m not really surprised that when you are going to a World Cup everyone is trying. Everyone wants to be on that plane.
“Even when I was a player I can’t remember a Scotland squad being as competitive as this. It’s probably the strongest one I have named as well and the hardest part of the job is making these phone calls to players. I’ll always do it, because I like to be up front with them, but it’s not a nice thing to do.”
Bristol City pair Frankie Brown and Abi Harrison have dropped out of the squad, which performed so well in the Algarve Cup, losing narrowly to fifth-ranked Canada, earning a strong win over Iceland and then defeating Denmark for the first time. Replaced by Reading defender Sophie Howard, pictured, and Arsenal forward Lisa Evans, Kerr said she had to weigh up all options to decide which players will best help Scotland through the tournament in France and offer the best chance of success.
“Sophie is one we haven’t seen play for about six months and Lisa has been out since the US game and we need to see them,” she said of the players who have 12 and 75 caps respectively but who have missed recent squads through injury. “We are still missing Emma Mitchell and Lana Clelland, and if you include Abbi Grant and Rachel McLauchlan, it is tough. But that is what we wanted. We wanted at least 30 players that we could potentially choose from and credit to them all, we are facing a really difficult decision.”
At the team’s first major finals, the European Championships in 2017, the build-up was marred by a row with the SFA over bonus payments, which led to the squad refusing to fulfil media duties – including the SFA’s in-house team, the tournament broadcast partner, Channel 4 or work with sponsors. There was even resistance to participating in Uefa media events.
But with the World Cup only three months away, Kerr is unsure if lessons have been learned and an early deal has been struck this time around.
“I’ve got to be impartial in all of that,” she said. “It’s confidential but as far as I’m aware there aren’t any challenges. I’m not involved in it.
“One thing I do know is that the players are really focused on the task ahead of them.”
The most pressing is simply making sure they don’t miss out as history is made, with every performance being scrutinised.
“We’ve got a group of players who have a brilliant strong mentality and hopefully that continues. They’re working really hard tactically and physically,” said Kerr.
“They can’t afford to be saving themselves for the World Cup because they might not be on the plane if they don’t perform well. Selection is based on performance, application and attitude.”