A big few months await Scotland boss Pedro Martinez Losa and his squad as they look towards an upcoming battle to reach next summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, writes CATHERINE ETOE.
Scotland made it into the European play-offs with a game to spare in their World Cup qualifying group and they will learn their opponent on 9 September when the draw is made.
The play-offs, involving nine group runners-up, are set for 6 and 11 October, but two matches are in the diary for Scotland first and they should prove valuable preparation for whatever lies ahead.
The biggest test comes on 2 September when Scotland travel to Zwolle for a competitive friendly with the Netherlands, ranked sixth in the world.
Four days later, Scotland will look to end their World Cup qualifying group on a high when they head to Torshavn to face the Faroe Islands.
Long term, Martinez Losa has lost the services of Rangers forward and senior team veteran Jane Ross as she recovers from an ACL injury. A short-term miss is AC Milan’s Christy Grimshaw, who is still making her return from a medical problem.
But the Scotland head coach is set to welcome back FC Rosengard’s Fiona Brown and Rangers’ Rachel McLauchlan from injury and Reading’s Emma Mitchell after maternity leave.
Martinez Losa seemed full of beans when he met the press in Edinburgh earlier in the week.
Here’s what he had to say about welcoming Emma Mitchell’s baby into the fold, the Netherlands, what he learnt at Euro 2022 and his thoughts on Sarina Wiegman’s leadership and the talismanic Caroline Weir’s move to the club he followed as a child, Real Madrid…
On Emma Mitchell and Fiona Brown returning to international duty:
PML: They have a lot of experience. Emma fills in a position that we don’t have a back-up from Nic [Docherty]. She has international experience, also character.
Fiona can play in many different positions. We have lost Christy Grimshaw and [Fiona] is a player who can play right-back in Sweden but also she can play on the wings in both positions. She is a competitor and a very good character and she will help us to continue to build the mentality.
The main thing is to make them part of increasing the standards in our training and competitiveness at the moment, then they can compete for a position. Also looking ahead to the play-off, this is the moment to see if they are at the best level.
On the help for Emma, who will bring her baby to camp:
PML: There are moments in a career where our role is to support as much as we can, not just Emma but also for example Jane [Ross], if she needs anything, it’s also to us to be there supporting. We can’t expect players to represent their country and give everything, because you give everything when you are on the pitch, and then not give it back when they need something. And obviously maternity is a special occasion where any woman needs the support and the platform to come back if you decide to get back to your best level as quick as possible.
On how they can help Emma:
PML: The logistics, she will bring somebody to help her when she is training. We will be flexible, we are humans and we need to facilitate. I think it’s the best for Scotland, it’s the best for the player. Hopefully it’s good. A baby is always good, it brings you energy and it’s good news. I’m also a father and [children are] one of your motivations.
On preparations for the Netherlands given their managerial changes:
PML: Patterns and the way the players play don’t change and they have many good players and we can see them being successful in other countries. I remember at Arsenal when we brought Sari van Veenendaal, Danielle van de Donk, Vivianne Miedema, Dominique Janssen, all of these players are proving they have an incredible education about football so I don’t think it will change much.
On that friendly in Zwolle:
PML: Our objective is to compete against one of the best teams in Europe and that’s what we’ll focus on. We have our ambition to experience these kind of games and compete in these kind of games, aligned also with the next game which is the Faroe Islands which will be totally different.
On the need for quality opposition ahead of the play-offs:
PML: If we want to belong to World Cups and international competitions we have to face these challenges all the time and we don’t have to be scared about playing in Hampden Park, about playing on big pitches, about exposing our players. We need more of that, we were unlucky not to qualify for the Euros so how we can get this kind of experience, we need more of that.
On this upcoming period in terms of his own pressure:
PML: This is why you coach. You cannot be scared. Of course you cannot avoid that feeling of being a little nervous, but you are also the leader and need to bring calm to the team. We have seen a big leader like Sarina [Wiegman] – I know her very well – but [even] from outside you can perceive she’s in control of the situation, she provides calm and confidence to the team. I don’t think the players can deal with all these situations if they don’t have that kind of leader, especially in modern football. So that’s part of my job, I have the responsibility, but I’m excited about that. It can only be two ways – it’s not going to be the end, the journey was [we have] work to do. Now we have the last sprint where we feel we are building something good, the players are involved, we are strong as a group.
On whether it was difficult to watch the Euros as Scotland manager:
PML: It was frustrating, to be there and see all the excitement and the atmosphere because I really believe we have the players and the level to be in the competition. On the other side I tried to have a more critical eye to analyse some teams that we can be at the same level as, opponents like Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Portugal, and those teams are very mature, not just in tactics but in terms of body language, level of energy, tactical discipline.
On Caroline Weir looking revitalised at Real Madrid:
PML: When you take on a new challenge it’s because you have ambition. I just talked a couple of times with her, but it looks like she’s a happy player. I think her style of play fits very well with the way Spanish teams want to play so she probably feels she has an important role and maybe a bit more freedom.
She is a player with creativity so as a second striker she can do whatever she can create. Teams will learn during the season how to mark her because she is an important player but, yes, physically she looks fresh. At the moment she is a player who has put herself in the next level and probably something we thought was going to happen with Caroline Weir because she is a world class player. What we want her to do is produce that consistently, which she has the ability to do.
The good thing is that I now have one more excuse to travel to Madrid!