Writer and Stylist sports pundit Sarah Arnold analyses Scotland’s performance in the Women’s World Cup group game against Japan.
Not even a late goal from super-sub Lana McClelland was enough to get Scotland a point in today’s World Cup group game against Japan.
With two Japanese goals in the first half, it made it very difficult for Scotland to get back into the came and it ended 2-1.
The expectation today was all on Japan. After all, they were finalists in 2015 and were winners of the 2011 competition. But the team is also in a period of transition; they’re a youthful side still finding their way and how they work together. Also, they could only scramble a draw against Argentina so if there was a time for Scotland to maximise, this was it.
Scotland’s coach Shirley Kerr made four changes after their 2-1 defeat to England last Sunday, reasoning that it was because “you need to freshen up the team”.
Before the game even started, it already felt different to the England game in Nice. The location of the stadium in Nice gave a poor match build up, and the atmosphere was lacking. In Rennes (in Brittany) the Tartan Army were out in force. There are around 2,000 travelling fans and they were in their finest Scottish gear.
The team sang Flower of Scotland passionately and started the game off confidently. When the game kicked off, Japan showed intent early on. The players came out and it was clear they didn’t want a repeat of their opening match.
With that in mind, Scotland also started confidently. They had possession and were passing the ball well. Goalkeeper Lee Alexander held well at the back.
But then it became apparent that Japan was winning balls in the air. This shouldn’t have been the case; Scotland’s players are taller and physically stronger than their opponents.
In the 22nd minute, a poor clearance from defender Rachel Corsie sent the ball to Mana Iwabuchi at the edge of the box. She wasted no time in sending the ball past Jen Beattie, over the head of Alexander and into the back of the net. The keeper should have done better and is no doubt disappointed with conceding a preventable score.
Replays showed Beattie turn her away from the ball as Iwabuchi struck the ball. Had she faced its trajectory; the game could have been completely different.
The rest of the half was dominated by Japan. They became comfortable and Scotland didn’t cause much trouble for them.
Corsie seemed determined to make up for her part to play in the goal. She chased down balls and was determined to ensure Japan didn’t get a second. This was her downfall in the end and after slight contact with Yuika Sugasawa, the Japanese player went down in the box (much too easily).
The referee immediately pointed to the penalty spot and booked the Scottish captain. Sugasawa took the kick herself and sent Alexander the wrong way. Japan was now 2-0 up due to some poor defending and a penalty that probably should never have been.
Half time couldn’t have come too soon for Scotland and the pundits didn’t have too much sympathy for the team or their coach. They dismissed her as a poor tactician and pointed out the team’s faults in the first half.
The BBC line up was again all female after the scrutiny received last week. Yet once again, they provided punditry that was many times better than the coverage I’ve seen provided at Premier League and Champions League games players who were also at the top of the game. Credit where it’s due to Gemma Fay and Hope Solo on their superb analysis.
Scotland came out after half time and immediately showed that they were not out of the game yet but Japan was still being given too much space to move in the midfield area. Scotland was still struggling to find players for their passes.
At the same time, Japan was unable to maximise on this. A poor clearance of a corner by Jane Ross gave Japan a great opportunity for a third, but a Saki Jumagai shot went wide.
At the hour mark, Kerr showed she may be the great tactician after all when she brought on Claire Emslie for Lizzie Arnot. Emslie’s energy (and that freshness Kerr was looking for) was injected throughout the team. Erin Cuthbert, who had been mostly anonymous for the first half started to find herself. She started making runs that we hadn’t seen, and she began forcing corners.
Still, Scotland was unable to break Japan. VAR was also showing themselves once again to be no friend of Scotland when Cuthbert is brought own in the box. The Scottish were screaming for a penalty but to no response.
Scotland kept persisting. Their drive and energy seemed to increase and Kerr makes a further two substitutions. The found an urgency which was missing for the previous 80 minutes.
In the 88th minute, substitute Lana Clelland strikes the ball from outside the box and into the net. Suddenly, it was game on for Scotland.
But it wasn’t to be. Even after another handball appeal inside the box, which again the VAR guys didn’t pick up on. It wasn’t Scotland’s day. Kerr described it as a moment of déjà vu; they’d again lost 2-1 to two first-half goals and a dubious penalty.
Kerr’s honesty was appreciated and when asked if there was anything that Scotland would have done differently, she bluntly answered, “Yeah – win”.
Lana Clelland summed it up perfectly when she said: “we need to take our second half performance into the next game.”
The Scots play Argentina next week and if they play anything like they did in the last ten minutes today, we should be in for a Scotland win.