Scotland’s participation at this summer’s Women’s World Cup hangs in the balance following a 2-1 defeat to Japan.
After a spirited second-half display against England last week, Shelley Kerr would have been looking for a much more assured performance against the 2011 champions but costly errors from her captain, Rachel Corsie, gifted Asako Takakura’s team a commanding half-time lead.
All four goals Scotland have conceded at this World Cup have come during the opening 45 minutes, while they have become only the third nation to concede a penalty in each of their first two games. Ultimately, the Scots were unable to overturn the deficit left by these bad habits. Despite a late goal and another strong second-half showing, they must now beat Argentina in style in their final group game to have any chance of reaching the knockout rounds.
But what did we learn from this clash in Rennes?
1. Costly for Corsie
There’s no doubting Corsie’s ability as a defender and leader of this Scotland side but today, her errors were costly.
First, a poor Corsie header from a routine cross gifted Japan possession, with Mana Iwabuchi — making her first-ever World Cup start — subsequently picking up the ball in acres of space 20 yards out. Iwabuchi then from distance fired Japan into the lead. Lee Alexander, in the Scotland goal, could have done better. However, that debate wouldn’t have arisen if Corsie had been more decisive in her clearance.
13 minutes later, another routine long ball into Scotland’s penalty area caught Corsie napping, she wasn’t able to deal Yuika Sugasawa’s run and by placing her arm on the Japanese forward — thus bringing her down — it led to a soft penalty. Once again, Corsie’s defending left a lot to be desired. Before they knew it Scotland were 2-0 down and staring down the barrel.
This wasn’t an inspiring performance from the captain.
If you’re going to defy the odds, you simply need to get your best player on the ball at every given opportunity. Scotland were not able to do this.
Erin Cuthbert’s exploits both in Europe and domestically last season for Chelsea elevated her as a player, but once again at this World Cup she was a passenger, at no fault of her own.
The 20-year-old did the best she could, occasionally dropping into space between the lines to receive the ball, forcing the Japanese defenders back in an effort to try and make things happen, but too often it looked like a one-woman army.
Cuthbert ended the game having touched the ball 52 times; not enough for such an influential player, while she made four tackles throughout the 90 minutes – 15 fewer than the number of passes she completed. Scotland’s World Cup campaign is now on tenterhooks. If they are to have any chance of progressing beyond the group stages, Cuthbert will need to become a more central figure.
3. European experts
Japan are real experts when it comes to defeating European opposition. Their 2-1 triumph over Scotland means they’ve extended their winning streak against Uefa’s finest at the World Cup to six matches, a feat made even more impressive given a previous run of nine matches saw them must one draw and eight defeats. In fact, across their last 12 games in these finals, Japan have tasted one defeat – the 2015 final against the United States.
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This victory was the perfect way to recover from a lacklustre opening round goalless draw against lowly Argentina and the former champions will now look to announce themselves when they face pre-tournament favourites England on June 19 at the Allianz Riviera in Nice.
Write off this resurgent Japanese side at your own peril.
As Cuthbert struggled to impose herself the same couldn’t be said for goalscorer Sugasawa who turned out to be pivotal to Japan’s attacking efforts on Friday.
Not only did the 28-year-old win and convert their first-half penalty, to effectively win the game, but she was a brilliant creative outlet for her side during the entire game.
No one created more chances (4) than Sugasawa which is the highest total of any player during a single match in Group D so far. What she lacks in size Sugasawa makes up for it when it comes to physicality.
She made her presence felt throughout, at every turn the Chiba-born forward was testing Scotland’s back, winning four duels and three aerial duels. Corsie, in particular, wasn’t up for the challenge.
5. Too little, too late
Scotland were thoroughly outclassed by England in the first half of their opening match, before putting in a spirited performance after the interval. It was a case of déjà vu here.
All four of Scotland’s conceded goals have come in the first 45 minutes and just like England before them, Japan had the Scots on the ropes. It could have been much worse than the two goals shipped in.
It was Claire Emslie against England, popping up with a late consolation goal, that honour against Japan fell to Lana Clelland, whose fantastic long-range strike put a degree of respectability on the scoresheet whilst giving the travelling Scottish contingent — who saw their side up their quality, urgency and composure late on — a ray of hope.
Kerr must now find a way to inject more ambition and confidence in her side from the off against Argentina next Wednesday evening if their first World Cup isn’t too end prematurely.