Twenty-one years ago, at a World Cup in France, the Scotland team conceded three goals in their final group stage game, a result that sent them home.
As we all know, ‘what’s past is prologue’ and tonight the Scotland team will pack their bags and return home from the FIFA Women’s World Cup after conceding three goals in a gut-wrenching 3-3 draw against Argentina.
The Scotland players will be full of conflicting emotions after a game that they somehow managed to simultaneously throw away and have cruelly snatched from them.
Here are the talking points:
Flying Scots: In their opening two games of the group, Scotland started slowly before growing in the second half. In Paris tonight, Scotland started like a runaway train. Kim Little was playing higher up the park, closer to Erin Cuthbert. After a let-off for Scotland when Argentina rattled the bar, that combination brought the opening goal. Erin Cuthbert was released into the box before finding her shot rebound back to her. She showed real composure to cut back to Kim Little who prodded home.
Half Time: Scotland 1-0 Argentina
Scotland in Dreamland: If Scotland started the first half in a hurry, they started the second at lightning pace. A Caroline Weir corner was partially cleared to Kim Little whose masterful reverse ball found Weir in the channel. Her perfect cross was hammered into the net by Jen Beattie, scoring a World Cup goal in the same stadium where her father John had scored a rugby try for Scotland.
It would get even better for Scotland and finally Erin Cuthbert would be rewarded with a World Cup goal. She was quickest to react when Leanne Crichton’s header rebounded off the post allowing her to volley home. 69 minutes gone, Scotland cruising at 3-0, next-stop the last-16 surely?
Scotland gonna Scotland: Not quite. Scotland’s momentum was quickly snuffed out as Argentina scored a quickfire double. The first came from a defensive mix-up with Milagros Menendez allowed a free run into Scotland’s box to slot home her first for her country. All of a sudden, Scotland’s dominance in the middle of the park had evaporated. Within 4 minutes, alarm bells were blaring when Lee Alexander tipped Florencia Bonsegundo’ long range shot onto the bar before it crept over the line.
Scotland were left in a catch-22 situation wherein they needed more goals to boost the goal difference and in turn their chances of qualifying for the last-16 as a best 3rd place side. On the other side, one more Argentina goal would send them home.
We need to talk about VAR: For the third game in succession at this World Cup, VAR reared its head to ruin Scotland’s night.
On 86 minutes Sophie Howard clumsily slid in on Cometti in the box. The referee waved play-on. VAR intervened. Countless replays and a touchline check later and Argentina had a penalty. Was it the right call? Probably. Did it take too long to get there? Definitely.
For the third game in succession, Scotland had given their opponents the chance to score from the spot.
Incredibly, Lee Alexander dived to her right and saved Bonsegundo’s penalty and the follow up. The ball was cleared, and the Scotland players celebrated wildly. Again, VAR intervened. Lee Alexander had both feet off the line when the ball was struck, and the penalty was to be retaken.
Correct by the letter of the (new) law? Probably, yes. Incredibly harsh? Definitely.
On the second attempt, Bonsegundo made no mistake, drilling the penalty down the middle.
The game then ended in farce as Scotland were denied any chance to re-take the lead. The clock ticked to 94 minutes and, as 4 minutes added time had been signalled, the referee duly blew the full-time whistle.
Considering the penalty incident began in the 86th minute and was scored in the 93rd, the Scotland players had every right to be furious at that time not being added at the end.
Is that a ‘clear and obvious’ error? A question for another day perhaps.
When the dust settles – When the adrenaline subsides and Scotland can reflect on this World Cup campaign, what conclusions can be drawn?
On the plus side, Scotland became the first World Cup debutants to score in every game. In Erin Cuthbert, who will only be 24 at the next World Cup, they have one of the most exciting talents in the game who will surely go from strength to strength in seasons to come.
At the next tournament Scotland qualify for, the experience they have gained on the biggest stage of them all will stand them in good stead.
On the negative side, Scotland will have to learn harsh lessons. After conceding penalties in every game, playing to the letter of the law (however new the laws are) will have to be worked on.
In defence, more must be done to play tighter. Scotland scored a remarkable five goals in the group stage but were hamstrung by conceding 2 or more in each game. Coming from behind was something Scotland managed several times in qualifying but against some of the best sides in the world the mountains were too high to scale in France.
Finally, the mental strength to see out a game from a winning position, so often the Achilles heel of Scotland sides across all sports and genders, needs to be improved. While Scotland will rightly feel hard done by tonight, the hard truth is from 3-0 ahead on 69 minutes it was defensive lapses that put Scotland within one (or two) VAR decisions of elimination.
Scotland will surely return to this stage stronger for this experience. For now, it’s que será, será.