Scotland crashed out of the World Cup in dramatic style after throwing away a three-goal lead against Argentina. They looked to be cruising but a five-minute capitulation that saw Milagros Menéndez score and Lee Alexander deflect the ball into her own net had them on the brink of disaster.
In added time Florencia Bonsegundo pushed Scotland over the edge from the spot. Alexander thought she had saved Scotland but the penalty was ordered to be retaken by the referee. Bonsegundo then made sure with her second effort that sealed the draw and Scotland’s fate.
Since Scotland’s men first took part in a World Cup in 1954, their history in the tournament has been filled with hope, followed by heartbreak. Progress for the women’s team seemed a very real proposition here, as they led Argentina by two goals with 11 minutes of normal time left, and by one going into added time.
Though the first two matches had not gone Scotland’s way, against familiar rivals England and Japan, two teams in the world’s top 10, Shelley Kerr’s team had started slowly and been on the wrong end of two 2-1 scorelines. Neither of these matches had been without controversy. Whether for the use or lack of VAR, or obvious errors by officials, bad luck seemed to stalk the team on their way to Paris.
The Albicelestes were the lowest ranked team in the group, but had impressed in a scoreless draw with Japan and run England close but, having lost to the Lionesses, they had no option but to attack Scotland. And attack they did. The first 20 minutes belonged to Carlos Borrello’s side. Like a spring that had been coiled and held tight in their first two matches, Argentina broke free of their constraints.
When Kim Little poked Erin Cuthbert’s cutback home midway through the first half the stadium was stunned. The goal had come from nowhere and at long last it seemed as if Scotland’s heartache was over. Freed by this, Scotland were first out of the gates after the break and Jennifer Beattie’s header gave the team a cushion to show their best attacking form.
Cuthbert was inspired, and Caroline Weir fed off the appreciation of the crowd as Little was finally given the chance to shine in a Scotland shirt. By the time Cuthbert added Scotland’s third, the nation was in dreamland. Finally Scotland had proved themselves on the world stage – and there was something beyond the group stage to look forward to.
But, of course, anyone who has read the book on Scotland at the World Cup, would know that it was not over. Argentina pulled one back through Milagros Menéndez, though perhaps Scotland should have had a free-kick in the build-up. Nerves began to fray in Paris as in Paisley, and suddenly it was 3-2. Florencia Bonsegundo’s hopeful effort bounced off the underside of the bar and in off Lee Alexander, registering as an own goal for the Scotland keeper.
Four minutes from time, an Argentina free kick was taken before Scotland had finished making a substitution, and Sophie Howard brought down Aldana Cometti in the penalty area. Lee Alexander saved Bonsegundo’s first effort, but VAR – Scotland’s old friend – was there again. Had Alexander come off her line too soon? VAR said yes and the penalty was retaken. The goalkeeper twitched on her line; Bonsegundo shot; the net bulged.
The entire incident took at least eight minutes but the board showed four additional minutes, and the whistle was blown soon after. That was that, Scotland were out. The team had unwittingly carried on the tradition started 65 years previously. But rightly or wrongly, there would be hope the next day.
This was not just another Scotland team that was not good enough. This was a team that had come closer than many would have even dreamed. But they were merely left with disappointment, with questions and with anger, and a new page in Scotland’s unhappy World Cup book.