SCOTLAND’S preparations for October’s World Cup play-offs start on Friday with a friendly against Netherlands in Zwolle. That’s followed four days later by a very different level of opposition when the final Group B qualifier is played in the Faroe Islands.

Pedro Martinez Losa has called Reading left-back Emma Mitchell into one of his squads for the first time, but knows her well as the 29-year-old was at Arsenal when he joined the WSL club in 2014. Also making a first appearance in a Martinez Losa selection is Rosengard winger Fiona Brown, who has yet again shown great fortitude to return from another serious knee injury.

Mitchell – she gave birth to a baby girl nine months ago – has played no competitive football since March 2021, while Brown has made just three brief substitute appearances in the last 12 months. The other player recalled is Rangers right-back Rachel McLauchlan.

All three are former Glasgow City players (Brown was also at Celtic, and McLauchlan at Aberdeen and Hibernian) but the days of domestic players providing the nucleus of Scotland squads have well and truly gone. Martinez Losa has selected just five Scottish-based outfielders for the double-header.

Jane Ross wasn’t available following her ACL rupture, but Lizzie Arnot drops out, as does Lisa Robertson, now back at Celtic after a loan season at Birmingham City.

Martinez Losa signed a number of Dutch players, including Vivianne Miedema, for Arsenal during his three years at the club. Friday’s opposition have parted company with English manager Mark Parsons following what they regarded as a disappointing Euros, replacing him on Wednesday with Andries Jonker, who was assistant to Louis van Gaal at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and also managed Wolfsburg.

There is a very slight chance that Scotland could face Netherlands again in the World Cup play-offs. Jonker’s side lead Group C by two points from Iceland, but the latter have a game in hand at home to Belarus on Friday. 

If, as expected, they win, it will set up a group decider against Netherlands in Utrecht on the same night Scotland are in the Faroes.

RANGERS will know their Champions League second round opponents on Thursday. If they win the home and away tie it will be the first time a Scottish club has had teams in both the women’s and men’s group stages.

The SWPL champions came through the convoluted first round mini-tournament format comfortably despite the heat and a sub-standard pitch at the Katerini Municipal Stadium. Uefa need to be stricter about the quality of grounds required to host games in their showpiece club competition.

Rangers have the second lowest co-efficient of the 14 teams in the champions path second round draw and will be anxious, in particular, to avoid Juventus. Fiona Brown’s club Rosengard and Benfica would also be challenging, as would Slavia Praha, who beat Hibernian 9-2 on aggregate in the 2019-20 competition.

The obvious target for Rangers among the seven seeded sides they could face is Vllaznia. The Albanian champions are based in Shkoder, a pleasant city which has positive memories for Scotland as it’s where the national team qualified for the 2019 World Cup.

Glasgow City missed out on the first-ever women’s group stage last season when they were beaten 3-2 on aggregate by Servette in the second round. They lost to the Swiss side again on Sunday, but by that time their interest in the tournament was over.

Should Rangers qualify, the rewards would be huge by women’s football standards. Each of the 16 group stage teams will receive €400,000, with a further €50,000 for a win and €17,000 for a draw.

AS I have already pointed out here, it can only be a matter of time before the big European clubs lobby for a change to the Champions League format.

Manchester City’s interest in this season’s tournament ended last Sunday when – in a scarcely believable twist – they were knocked out in the first round by Caroline Weir’s superb goal at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano. It was a sobering experience for Weir’s former team-mates, including Chloe Kelly, whose winning goal for England in the Euros final is still fresh in the memory.

That either a top Spanish or English side was inevitably going to be eliminated in the first round won’t please the European elite. But the night was a triumph for Weir, who looked fresh and revitalised.

Martinez Losa believes the move to his home city and the Spanish football environment will make the attacking midfielder an even better player. On the evidence of last week, it’s hard to disagree.