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Often the bridesmaids . . . but Scots can qualify

WHATEVER misfortune George Best brought upon himself during an often turbulent existence, choosing to enter the world in Northern Ireland was not among them.

Kim Little's form  with Seattle Reign has marked her out as one of the best women footballers  in the world. Picture: SNS
Kim Little's form with Seattle Reign has marked her out as one of the best women footballers in the world. Picture: SNS

Not, of course, that Best's famously wayward lifestyle did not have its compensations - but the accident of birth meant that one of the greatest footballers of all time was doomed never to play in a World Cup.

It would be silly, for any number of reasons, to make valid comparisons between Best and Kim Little, but the 23-year-old Aberdonian has spent the last two months seriously underlining her credentials to be regarded as one of the best women footballers on the planet. However, like Best, she comes from a country which has no ordained right to play on the big international stages.

The start Little has made to her club career in the United States has been sensational. In her first 10 matches since joining Seattle Reign from Arsenal Ladies, the beautifully balanced Scot has found the net on nine occasions. A team which, without Little, finished seventh out of eight teams last season currently leads the National Women's Soccer League by seven points from Chicago Red Stars. Little is the league's leading scorer.

Small wonder her outstanding form is a source of delight for Scotland coach Anna Signeul, who yesterday named the midfielder in her 20-player squad for the upcoming 2015 Women's World Cup qualifiers against Sweden and Northern Ireland.

"Now America is seeing what we always knew, that Kim is one of the best players in the world," said Signeul. "Everyone in England knows it from her time at Arsenal. Because we never play in World Cup or European Championship finals, Kim and the other Scottish players haven't had the chance to show the world what they are about."

Asked if there was any parallel with Best, or perhaps more pertinently Scotland's record goalscorer Julie Fleeting - who was also denied a World Cup - Signeul replied: "That won't be the case for much longer because we are getting closer and closer to qualifying for a major championship final.

"For the young players, including Kim, it will happen. Scotland will be at finals in the future."

A victory against Signeul's native Sweden at Fir Park a week on Saturday would be a huge step in that direction. The Scots lead Group 4 having taken maximum points from their opening six games. They also have a superior goal difference to the Swedes, who have played one game fewer.

The two teams will meet again in the last game of the group in September when, with home advantage, the Swedes would be expected to win. Conversely, the group favourites would be under huge pressure if they lose at Fir Park.

Sweden won 4-1 when the sides last played in a friendly at Stark's Park two years ago, but Signeul believes the gap between the sides has narrowed considerably since then. "Our fitness and speed are much improved now," she said.

"Of course we can beat Sweden, because we can beat any team, I think, on a good day. But they are still the favourites to reach next year's finals in Canada because they are No.5 in the world and three in Europe."

Signeul has been able to name nearly her strongest squad for the double header, with only Hibernian captain Joelle Murray ruled out because of a foot injury. There are returns for Glasgow City's Leanne Crichton and Sue Lappin, as well as Rangers striker Suzanne Mulvey.

Turbine Potsdam striker Lisa Evans is also available despite injuring her ankle in the Champions League semi-final second leg against Wolfsburg and only returning to her club side recently. Her injury coincided with a late season dip in form for the German club, who not only lost the chance to win the league but have now missed out on qualifying for next season's Champions League.

Emma Mitchell, who won an FA Cup winners' medal with Arsenal on Sunday, is one of four England-based players in the squad, while Swedish club Vittsjo provide four players, including veteran defender Ifeoma Dieke and striker Jane Ross. Although there are just nine domestic players, Glasgow City provide six of them.

The second game, against Northern Ireland, is in Belfast on June 19.

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