Shelley Kerr believes her Scotland players can get the 2019 World Cup qualifying campaign off to a winning start when they play Belarus in Minsk tonight. The head coach is also looking for the attacking flair evident in last month’s 3-0 friendly win against Hungary.
Group 2 top seeds Switzerland already have six points, having won both their opening two matches, but don’t play in the current window. Scotland will join them at the top if they beat Belarus and then Albania in the second of the double-header at St Mirren Park on Tuesday.
Tonight’s game is being played at the home of FC Minsk, which was also the venue when the two nations met 16 months ago in a Euro 2017 qualifier. Although Scotland won the home game at Fir Park 7-0, it took an early Jo Love goal to separate the sides in the return.
That performance highlighted Scotland’s limited attacking options and Kerr and her assistant Andy Thomson have been working on that aspect in the build up to tonight’s game. She will start with the 4-2-3-1 formation which worked well in Budapest, but could switch to a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 during the game.
Kerr, who has experienced defenders Emma Mitchell and Jen Beattie available again, as well as Chelsea teenager Erin Cuthbert, brought in new faces for the Hungary game. Glasgow City goalkeeper Lee Alexander and Hibernian midfielder Lucy Graham made their debuts, while another former Hibs player, Claire Emslie, was given her first start. The Manchester City forward epitomised the new approach Kerr, pictured, is seeking. The 23-year-old scored the second goal with a fierce strike from 20 yards and helped bring much-needed energy and directness.
The only quibble about the display was that other players missed excellent chances, but overall Kerr was satisfied. “It was a really positive performance, and we can’t forget that,” she said, “The players who were involved did extremely well, and now we’ve got the three others coming in as well.
“If you turn it around, I don’t think I can remember us creating so many chances in a game and that’s the really pleasing aspect for us. We probably haven’t played in such an attacking way before, so that’s new. Being more expansive is part of our game plan, within reason.”
Alexander and Emslie are likely to start again, with Mitchell and Beattie also in line for reappearances after missing the Euros through injury. Belarus lost their opening game to Poland last month, but beat Albania 1-0. “In their last two games Belarus have played more expansive football and we’ve made the players aware of this,” Kerr pointed out.
Glasgow City’s Love is the side’s most experienced player following the retiral of captain Gemma Fay and two other players with more than 100 caps, Ifeoma Dieke and Leanne Ross. She and Kerr go back a long way, both as international and club team-mates, but the 31-year-old midfielder says their friendship is put aside when the squad meet up. “You have to know what the boundaries are.
“I’ve always respected Shelley but I treat her the way I’d treat any other manager.”