Helping Scotland to their first ever major championships would mean more to Kim Little than being named Women’s Footballer of the Year.
The Scottish midfielder was voted the best player on the planet, from a shortlist that included 2015 World Cup winner Carli Lloyd, of USA, who won the Golden Ball for her performances in that tournament, and Frenchwoman Amandine Henry, who picked up the Silver Ball.
But while 25-year-old Little is delighted to have held off such luminaries and received the accolade, she says that victory over Iceland at the Falkirk Stadium tonight and safe passage to next year’s European Championship finals would top that.
“It’s nice but we play football because it is a team sport not for individual recognition,” Little said. “My focus is completely on the team and doing my best to help us win.
“Our aim is to qualify for the Euros next summer and this is a big game in terms of playing Iceland who are the top ranked team in our group. We hope we can put on a good performance and get the points that will take us into the Belarus game [on Tuesday] and then the Iceland game later in the year and hopefully will lead us into the Euros.”
With only three games of the qualifying campaign remaining, Anna Signeul’s squad top their group with a 100 per cent record. It means that, depending on results elsewhere, they could book their place in a major championships for the very first time tonight. Little says the players want to do it in style, though, by preserving their winning form and completing a flawless campaign.
“I’ve been in the squad for a long time so we’ve had numerous chances to qualify for a major tournament so, for everyone, in their own way it would mean a lot.
“We’ve had a lot of qualification campaigns where we have been in play-offs after we’ve finished second but, obviously, there is potential this time. The team has put itself in a great position as we’ve not dropped points against teams lower than us when others have in other groups, so we’re in a great position in that sense. I think those play-off games and those high-pressure games will help us going into these last games.”
Three points tonight might be enough but, with a match against Belarus in Minsk on Tuesday as well, four points from the double header definitely would see them qualify for the championships, in the Netherlands, next summer.
If they do manage to wrap things up, national coach Signeul says it will be a sign of just how far the game has progressed in Scotland. In the past, the likes of Julie Fleeting, who Signeul insists was, like Little, also world class in her heyday, missed out on football at the highest levels internationally. Despite impressing at club level, the fact that the country lacked strength in depth denied the striker the chance to compete at World Cups and European Championships. With the Scottish team edging closer and closer, Signeul does not believe the same fate will befall Little.
“It would be fantastic for her,” said the coach. “That is always what I said about Julie Fleeting. It was such a shame for such a fantastic player. It was a bit like Ryan Giggs, being that good and not playing on the world stage, even when they were obviously worth it.
“Everything about Kim makes her special. It’s her character. Her absolute willingness to win, her competitiveness, her drive to do the perfect thing. She has always been that perfectionist. She has put everything in her whole life to get to where she is today. She has never slacked off at anything and I think that has made her a fantastic football player.
“When she came to the national team at 16 she was already the fittest in the team and her understanding of the game, her game knowledge, is fantastic. The way she moves on the pitch too. You can look at GPS today and compare with other players and see how many metres and how fast the player is running. And if you just look at a training session, Kim is covering so much more ground than anyone else. She is running faster than anyone else.”
But, while Scotland still have that stand-out player, whose teamwork is allied to 46 goals for her country, the belief is that the players around her are of a higher calibre these days.
“We have fantastic players in this team,” says Signeul. “It’s not just Kim Little, even if she is absolutely the star.
“We have good players in all positions and almost everybody is back from injury. We have a very strong team and are confident that we can go out and beat Iceland. It’s slowly getting more players on a higher level. The young players we’ve developed are coming through and are better and there are more playing full-time football in better leagues. We can’t be much better than we are right now – we are in a very good place.”