Two halves have left Scotland fighting for their World Cup dream.
In yesterday’s game with Japan and their opener against England, they have been two goals down before the interval and left themselves with the proverbial mountain to climb.
On each occasion it has proved too steep a peak to ascend, with Lana Clelland’s late goal yesterday only serving to reduce Scotland’s goal-difference deficit.
They now need to beat Argentina – likely comprehensively – and are beholden to other results if they are to prolong their maiden World Cup voyage beyond three games.
Scotland made four changes from the 2-1 defeat to England, with Kirsty Smith, Hayley Lauder, Jane Ross and Lizzie Arnot called into the side for Sophie Howard, Nicola Docherty, Claire Emslie and Christie Murray.
Japan, the world’s number seven-ranked side and 2011 world champions, brought in Nana Ichise, Iwabuchi and Jun Endo from the 0-0 draw with Argentina. Moeka Minami, Yui Hasegawa and Kumi Yokoyama dropped out.
Kerr had mulled over her approach to this game; there was a reluctance to sit in and defend and wait for an opportunity, based on their experiences in a friendly defeat to Sweden. Principles were not abandoned, as Scotland showed greater aggression to the ball and commitment to continue playing out from the back, despite Japan’s front pair of Iwabuchi and Sugasawa playing high.
The intelligence of midfield pair Kim Little and Caroline Weir, who took it in turns to drop in as a third defender in possession, ensured Scotland had control of the ball in the first period, however opportunities on goal were rare. They had Arnot targeting right-back Risa Shimizu, who she had beaten for pace, but too often the final pass was missing.
Aberdonian Rachel Corsie, so impressive against England, will not look back fondly on her play for the opening goal. Her clearing header was poor, landing straight at the feet of Endo, who wasted little time in feeding Iwabuchi. The 26-year-old beat Alexander convincingly.
Scotland would have to come from behind again. They were 2-0 down before the break as Corsie, caught the wrong side of Sugasawa, was penalised by referee Lidya Abebe for bringing down the Japanese striker.
A shell-shocked Scots side desperately needed inspiration, as Sugasawa rolled the penalty beyond Alexander. The temptation was there now to panic, force the game and contribute further to their own downfall. Japan were able to pick holes in the Scotland structure, while depriving their two most influential players, Little and Erin Cuthbert, of much time on the ball. Hina Sugita hitting the woodwork just before the interval could have sunk them.
Confidence was short, as were the options going forward. The majority of Scotland’s play came in their own half and they failed to find any sort of outlet. Nine pink shirts behind the ball, with a good 40 yards of space to Ross, who had the impossible task of fashioning a chance out of nothing.
Emslie’s introduction at least brought a direct threat to Scotland’s game but there was still a paucity of chances. Lisa Evans forced a low stop out of Ayaka Yamashita and bafflingly, Shimizu was allowed to get away with a blatant handball in front of Cuthbert, as time and luck deserted the Scots. Lana Clelland finally gave Scotland some hope, picking out the top corner superbly from 25 yards, but it all appeared too little, too late.
The intensity and drive appeared only in the dying embers of the game.
Scotland will hope that is not how their tournament flickers out.