The tough opposition kept coming for Erin Cuthbert’s Scotland in their maiden World Cup as they suffered a narrow defeat to 2011 winners and 2015 runners-up Japan.
After facing one of the semi-finalists from four years ago last weekend, losing 2-1 to an England team featuring Blues Millie Bright, Fran Kirby and Karen Carney, Scotland came up short by the same scoreline against the finalists and former world champions Japan, despite the best efforts of our Women’s Player of the Year.
The tournament debutants, with our Scottish rising star their beating heart, made the most of a difficult draw and took the game to the Japanese, who are ranked seventh in the world and gave an improved showing following their goalless draw with Argentina. They are now 12 games out of 13 unbeaten on football’s biggest global stage.
Perth-born substitute Lana Clelland fired home a screamer three minutes from time to score Scotland’s first-ever goal in three matches against Japan, but they had left it too late once again and the goal only turned out to be a consolation, with their overriding aim of reaching the next round now resting on their final Group D fixture.
Cuthbert, who led the line against the Lionesses and proved the most effective outlet for the underdogs on the counter attack, dropped back to the No.10 position with West Ham United’s Jane Ross, the all-time top scorer in a Scotland shirt, recalled to the line-up. The Blues prodigy vowed that any opening game nerves would be long gone by kick-off against Japan and Shelley Kerr’s side did manage to settle into a more proactive approach.
As Cuthbert had also predicted, the Scots tried to exploit their physicality compared to the diminutive Japanese, packing players into midfield areas in an attempt to break up their passing moves. They were still susceptible to sporadic lapses, however, and lost control of the match when a misdirected clearance led to Mana Iwabuchi’s 22nd minute opener, although Yuika Sugasawa’s penalty was scored under more questionable circumstances.
Scotland came close to halving the deficit shortly before the break through Cuthbert, who let fly from the edge of the box, connecting with a square pass by Ross, but her dipping shot whizzed narrowly over the crossbar. Our 20-year-old star looked comfortable on the ball but rarely had a lot of space to work with at Roazhon Park.
They dared to push higher in the second half, driven forwards by Cuthbert, never one to be afraid of a tussle. She deservingly had Scotland’s best chance of the match with 10 minutes remaining, finding herself with the ball at her feet six yards out after a corner but her shot rattled the post. The bench was screaming for a penalty when she was bundled down moments later, but after a VAR check no spot-kick was awarded. When Clelland's goal did arrive it was too little, too late.
A second valiant defeat realistically leaves the Tartan Army competing with Argentina for third place in Group D and the chance to reach the knockout stage as one of the best-performing teams to miss out via conventional means. The Latin Americans take on England, who have four Chelsea players in their ranks and go in as heavy favourites, tonight at 8pm UK time, before the Scots have their turn on Wednesday in a must-win encounter.