All change as Scotland head to Cyprus in surreal circumstances

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SURREAL doesn’t begin to describe the circumstances surrounding Scotland’s final two Group E qualifiers in Cyprus. Friday’s game against the hosts was scheduled, albeit having been moved from last year’s original date – but other aspects would have been fantastical three months ago.

Scotland remaining in Larnaca to play their “home” match against Portugal a week on Tuesday because of travel restrictions is the least of it. Who, for example, could have possibly predicted that the national team would go into a Euro double-header with the Scotland men’s under-16 head coach in charge, assisted by Glasgow City’s captain?

Or that, with nine regular squad members unavailable, 103-times capped Hayley Lauder would be omitted. Or that the Rangers first choice and reserve goalkeepers would be among seven players from the club included.

All this, of course, is not just down to the pandemic. Scotland’s failure to finish even second in a group they were seeded to win led to Shelley Kerr’s premature departure – and with no permanent successor in place Stuart McLaren is at the helm for the two games. Leanne Ross, who will gain invaluable experience, is one of his assistants.

McLaren named his squad on Monday, with another notable feature being the return of Celtic midfielders Lisa Robertson and Natalie Ross. The former was on the bench for a 1-1 draw against Serbia in 2013, but has come no closer to a debut cap despite being one of the best midfielders in Scotland for many years.

Ross made her debut against Netherlands in 2003 and has eleven caps, the last of them being against Northern Ireland in 2009.

In choosing two players who were ignored completely by Kerr, McLaren has both cast a fresh eye and taken account of different circumstances. Robertson, in particular, and following Leanne Crichton’s international retirement, could free up Caroline Weir to play further forward.

The Manchester City player scored a superb goal against Manchester United on Friday. Her best work is in the final third of the pitch, rather than in front of the back four.

With so many players out – including Kim Little – it’s difficult to fathom Lauder’s omission. She has played left back on many occasions for Scotland, but is a hugely effective attacking player with her club.

“We felt the players who play in Hayley’s positions were performing better,” was McLaren’s explanation – but the reality is that none of the eleven domestic players in the squad have played for two months.

As with Robertson and Ross, Rangers’ No 2 goalkeeper Megan Cunningham didn’t come into Kerr’s plans. She was, briefly, in Anna Signeul’s when, aged 19 and tipped to have a big future, she won her only two caps in 2015.

Cunningham’s selection ahead of first team goalkeepers at other clubs, including Spartans’ Rachel Harrison, is inevitably controversial. It was, according to McLaren, the choice of the goalkeeping coach for the two games, Fraser Stewart.

It leaves Harrison feeling aggrieved again. When a third goalie was required for two friendlies at La Manga in 2019, Harrison was chosen and seemed certain to get her first cap as all the players were promised game time. It didn’t happen.

AND ANOTHER THING

THE latest depressing suspension of Scottish Building Society SWPL football means it will be at least March 1 before clubs have any chance of resuming training. If the green light is given it will almost certainly have to be accompanied by PCR testing, as opposed to much cheaper lateral flow tests.

In these circumstances the Scottish FA would have to give clubs access to the $500,000 Covid relief fund received from Fifa. That would appear to be precisely its purpose, but the SFA seem to take the view it should be used to help women’s football thrive out of the pandemic.

How exactly the Fifa money is to be deployed should become clearer when the new Head of Girls’ and Women’s Football is appointed. The position has been vacant for 18 months, but, finally, an announcement is expected very soon.

AND ONE MORE THING

BBC Scotland’s report that Carolina Morace’s agent contacted SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell regarding the Scotland vacancy was noteworthy. The Italian legend said there had been no follow-up from the governing body, and rejoined one of her former clubs, Lazio, on February 5.

As far as the SFA is concerned, that ended Morace’s interest in the job. She is a former team-mate of Rose Reilly, and a significant figure in women’s football, but apparently just one of several candidates who have expressed interest and are being considered for the position.

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