SOTLAND’S World Cup play-off draw is, on balance, a good one. While European Championship quarter-finalists Austria are undoubtedly going to be tough first-round opponents on October 6, there is no travel involved for either that tie nor the potential follow-up against the Republic of Ireland five days later.

Pedro Martinez Losa and his players will therefore have uninterrupted preparation time for what hopefully will be a double-header at Hampden. Given that a record 18,555 turned up for the friendly against Jamaica prior to the 2019 World Cup, even bigger numbers can surely be expected for a game, or games, that could propel Scotland to the 2023 finals.

By contrast, an almost deserted Makario Stadium in Nicosia was the venue for Scotland’s last game against Austria, a 3-1 win in the 2017 Cyprus Cup. Anna Signeul’s 12-year tenure was drawing to a close, and the Scotland goals were scored by Jane Ross, Leanne Ross and Lisa Evans. Despite the victory, the Scottish defence was given a testing afternoon by young Austrian forward Nicole Billa (pictured), who scored their goal 24 hours after her 21st birthday. Women’s footballer of the year in Germany in 2021, the Hoffenheim striker was one of three key players identified by Scotland head coach Pedro Martinez Losa on Friday – the others being goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger and the captain, Viki Schnaderbeck.

Scotland ended their group qualifying campaign with a 6-0 win in the Faroe Islands on Tuesday, a scoreline which, despite some really well-executed goals, didn’t reflect the team’s total dominance. They go into the play-offs ranked only sixth of the nine nations involved – which means that even two Hampden wins might not be enough to prevent a trip to New Zealand in February for the inter-confederation play-offs, otherwise known as the last chance saloon.

THE success of the Euros has led to predictable spikes in Women’s Super League season ticket sales, as well as advance bookings for marquee games. The season should have got underway yesterday, but, as in Scotland, the weekend games are all off.

The headline figure is that 40,000 tickets for the North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium on September 24 have already been sold. The attendance looks certain to be the highest ever for a WSL match, beating the 38,262 who watched the teams play at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in 2019.

In the SWPL, the opening day boost from the Euros has not been sustained. A combined attendance of 2107 on week one was followed by 1516 on week two, 1446 on week three, and 1229 on the Sunday before the international break.

Although the downward trend is inescapable, an SWPL spokesperson pointed out there are some mitigating factors. Because of the Champions League there were midweek games in week three – including Rangers’ home game against Hearts which was switched to the club’s training ground and attracted only 97 fans.

That blip apart, matches involving Rangers have provided the biggest attendances in three of the four weeks to date. As well as the 720 at Broadwood for the annihilation of Glasgow Women on the opening Sunday, Aberdeen’s home game against the defending champions the following week attracted 329 paying customers, and a fortnight last Sunday there were 261 at New Douglas Park for Hamilton Accies’ game against Rangers.

On week three, Hibernian attracted a commendable 340 to Meadowbank Stadium for their game against Motherwell. But despite the overall falling figures, what is important is that the SWPL and clubs continue to be transparent about attendances, as that is the only way season-to-season rises and falls can be measured.

Regarding season tickets, Rangers have sold 361 to date. Glasgow City, who had a big crowd at Petershill Park for their Champions League game against AS Roma, have 143 season-ticket holders. Celtic didn’t respond to a request for their figure.

FINALLY, it is good news that Rangers are following the example of Hibs in previous seasons and playing their home Champions League game against Benfica a week on Tuesday at Ibrox. As with the international team, there is the very realistic prospect of a record attendance for a women’s club game in Scotland.

Assistant coach and girls academy manager Kevin Murphy said: “It is massive. Playing at Ibrox is such a fantastic experience not just for the players, but for staff as well, and to do it at the highest possible level is great.”

It doesn’t, however, look like Benfica will return the compliment in the second leg. The game is scheduled to be played at the club’s Futebol Campus in Seixal, near Lisbon.