Scotland Women’s World Cup defeat to Japan – five things we learned

Florence Lloyd Hughes looks at what can be learned from Scotland’s 2-1 defeat to Japan.

Too little too late, again.

Unfortunately it was deja vu for Scotland as they left it too late to have any chance of getting a result in this game. Just like Claire Emslie’s 79th minute goal against England last Sunday, Lana Clelland’s wonder strike at the death wasn’t enough to inspire a heroic stoppage time fightback.

Scotland began the match parked in their own half, and with Japan looking the more attacking side it hardly came as a surprise when Mana Iwabuchi’s sweetly struck shot sailed into the net over the head of goalkeeper Lee Alexander.

The onslaught continued, and the Scots were pinned back. Instead of dictating play, Scotland’s key star Kim Little was forced to head Saki Kumagai’s chance off the line to keep her team in the game.

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Japan eventually made the pressure count and doubled their lead after captain Rachel Corsie pulled down Yuika Sugasawa in the box. Generous perhaps, but the VAR team concurred and Sugasawa scored the resulting penalty to give her side a healthy lead going into the second half.

Despite Scotland’s late effort, Japan held on and are now second in Group D. Scotland and Argentina will be competing for a third-place qualification spot in the final game next week. If Japan lose to England, who have already qualified, and Argentina defeat Scotland by a substantial margin they could steal an unlikely second place from the Japanese.

VAR, the silent killer

Unlike much of the tournament so far, VAR was shockingly underused in this fixture as Scotland were denied a clear penalty for handball. Claire Emslie whipped in a ball to Erin Cuthbert who managed to control the cross and tried to turn, but the ball was clearly blocked by the hand of Risa Shimizu, however the referee and her team of analysts were unmoved. VAR’s track record of giving penalties for anything that remotely touches the upper body was suddenly nowhere to be seen.

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After the game manager Shelley Kerr told reporters she felt it was a “clear penalty” and after VAR awarding England a soft penalty in their opening game, Scotland must feel that technology is not their friend.

Hope Solo tells it like it is

Former USA goalkeeper Hope Solo was damning in her analysis of Kerr’s tactics. As part of the BBC’s team for the game, Solo didn’t hesitate in giving her opinion at the final whistle. “It was too little too late, and the verdict still is out tactically,” she said. “I think what changed the game is putting fresh legs on the field and for me that’s not tactics, that’s just putting fresh legs on the field.”

Solo highlighted the obvious lack of partnership between Cuthbert and Kim Little, who had both been so highly praised coming into this tournament: “When you have two of the top players in Cuthbert and Little and they’re not connecting on the field I don’t understand that. As the manager you look at that and you say ‘I need my players to connect. These are the two players who can really carry the game’ and they’re on opposite sides of the field for almost the entire game.”

Scotland need to find old form

Scotland came into this World Cup undefeated in their last five games but have now lost two back to back. Losing to two teams ranked amongst the top 10 in the world is no major cause for alarm, however Kerr will be disappointed at the manner of both defeats. Whilst some harsh decisions have gone against her team, Kerr has good players at her disposal but the lack of urgency and energy in the squad will be a worry. A win against Argentina would guarantee a third place finish and set this team back on the right path.

Japan aren’t done yet

Japan put the disappointment of their draw with Argentina on match day one behind them and looked like a revitalised side yesterday. Head coach Asako Takakura made three changes to her team from the opening game where the former World Cup winners were toothless and two first half goals were their reward. If this Japan returns next Wednesday, England will face their first real test of this World Cup.

Follow Florence on Twitter at @floydtweet

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