In a way, it’s reassuring to know that World Cup heartache in France is not an experience reserved for the Scotland men’s team.
Scotland left Rennes on Friday night with a profound sense of déjà vu. For the second consecutive group stage match they had conceded a goal from a penalty, gone in at half time two behind before rallying late and finishing on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline. The only difference being the opponent. For England on Sunday, read Japan on Friday.
Scotland travel to Paris on Wednesday for a meeting with (37th ranked) Argentina, likely needing to win by a few clear goals to retain a chance of last-16 qualification against a team that has only conceded 1 goal in games against Japan & England.
Here are the talking points:
False Start: For the second consecutive game, Scotland started slowly and allowed their opponent the initiative in the first half. Japan had added an extra attacking player from their opening day draw with Argentina and their high press was forcing Scotland into conceding possession through long balls.
Japan had been enjoying the lions share of possession and territory by the time Mana Iwabuchi lashed a shot high over Lee Alexander for the opening goal in the 23rd minute. Alexander will feel she could have done better but in fairness she would have seen it very late as the shot came up over the Scotland centre back.
Referee?!? Much has been written about the rights and wrongs of VAR and how it has been implemented. While it was introduced to eliminate ‘clear and obvious errors’ in match officiating, in practice it often sows confusion among supporters in the stadium and watching at home. It isn’t clear when VAR has intervened to allow play to continue without a touchline check by the referee.
In the 37th minute, a cross from deep saw a coming together in the box between Rachel Corsie and Yuika Sugasawa. The Scotland captain had placed a hand on the strikers shoulder, at half time BBC pundit Hope Solo pointed out that a player of her 100+ caps should know better, but the contact didn’t merit the theatrical way Sugasawa crashed to the ground. Penalty awarded, no touchline check by the referee, 2-0 Japan.
When the stakes are this high, and the decision is at best borderline, surely a second look would be worthwhile, given the system exists for precisely these situations?
In the second half, two more incidents left VAR un-moved. First, Erin Cuthbert saw a shot rebound off the post. It looked very much like she had been fouled while shooting but VAR disagreed.
Then came the most contentious moment of the match. Erin Cuthbert was again at the heart of it, controlling the ball with her foot inside the box before losing it to the Japanese player Yukiya Sugita. Replays showed that Sugita had clearly intervened to taking possession using her arm inside the box. Despite the furious protestations from Erin Cuthbert, no VAR touchline check was forthcoming.
The Late, Late Show: As they had done in their opening game, Scotland cranked up the pressure late in the game. Scotland’s goalscorer against England Claire Emslie & Fiorentina’s Lana Clelland had come on to try and turn the game back in Scotland’s favour.
It was Clelland who found a goal back, taking advantage of a mis-placed pass across the defence before arrowing a beautiful shot into the top corner for her 4th international goal. It was a goal that deserved to be more than a consolation for Scotland.
From there the game petered out and Scotland were left to rue another slow start in this World Cup that left them with a mountain to climb in the 2nd half.
Scotland’s hopes of reaching the knockout stage are now slim, although the four best 3rd placed sides from the 6 groups will progress. To stand a chance of progression, Scotland will need to beat Argentina in Paris on Wednesday while greatly boosting their goal difference.
Otherwise, Scotland will be heading home from a World Cup in France after the group stage.
Plus ça change.