Scotland face Argentina on Wednesday needing a win to have any chance of reaching the last 16 as one of the best third-place teams but knowing their destiny is out of their own hands.
Despite some spirited second-half performances, things haven’t quite gone to plan for Shelley Kerr’s side so far, with consecutive 2-1 defeats to England and Japan leaving them stranded at the bottom of Group D.
In Argentina, they face another side without a win at this year’s tournament so far. But while their South American counterparts are yet to score a single goal in France, they’ve proved a tough nut to crack with their 0-0 draw and 1-0 defeat against Japan and England respectively.
Such has been Argentina’s doggedness in defence, no team in the entire tournament so far tops their 55 tackles or 25 headed clearances, while they have had just a 26.68% share of possession; the lowest of any side, even Thailand, who have conceded 18 goals. Despite having just four touches in the opposition box so far, they’re robust, defensive and – thanks to a severe lack of funding hampering the talent pool for the women’s team – unapologetic about it.
“I congratulated my players. The fact they understand your game plan and are so disciplined on the pitch is very satisfying to see,” coach Carlos Borrello said after the goalless draw with Japan. “We couldn’t play any other way against this team. We had to stay back and be very, very organised and then come out with some counter attacks. It was very satisfying to earn a point.”
Scotland, of course, haven’t managed a first-half goal so far in their maiden World Cup campaign and have only ever done so once in their five major tournament matches to date. Furthermore, just five of their 19 shots so far (26%) have been in the first half.
So, how does a team that struggles to break an opponent down cope against one that, well, doesn’t break down? How can Scotland remain calm as the minutes begin to tick by without a breakthrough, knowing they need to run up a score to give themselves a chance of progression?
I’m really excited for it. You might think I’d be desperate for a goal after going close a couple of times in the first two games, but I’m just desperate for three points.
Defender Sophie Howard believes Scotland’s ability to ‘perform under pressure’ will be key in getting a win over Argentina – who themselves can still qualify with victory over the Scots – referencing their comeback wins against Belarus and Poland during qualifying.
“We’ve shown we can perform under pressure,” she said. “Our team fight until the end and I think this journey has not ended for us.”
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A number of outlets – including ourselves – have criticised Scotland’s inability to get their star player, Erin Cuthbert, into proceedings so far, with the Chelsea star having just 103 touches of the ball in the tournament as of yet – way, way down the list in that particular metric.
Former USA goalkeeper Hope Solo has slammed Kerr for her tactics during this World Cup and maybe she could be at fault for the lack of cohesion between her trump card and the rest of the team. Regardless, though, Cuthbert is one of the brightest prospects in the women’s game right now and her guile and intelligence will be absolutely key in unlocking this stubborn Argentina side.
Three outcomes which could deny Scotland progression:
- Norway, Nigeria, Brazil and Australia all avoid defeat.
- Spain and China draw in their Group B clash.
- Cameroon vs New Zealand ends with one team winning by two goals more than Scotland beat Argentina by, or Chile beat Thailand by five goals more than the Scots’ result.