FIFA Women’s World Cup
Japan 2–1 Scotland
Friday, 14 June 2019, kick-off 2pm (UK time)
Roazhon Park, Rennes
Scorers: Iwabuchi 22, Sugasawa (pen) 37; Clelland 88
A late Scotland rally was not enough to claim a first FIFA Women’s World Cup point against Japan this afternoon, as the 2011 world champions claimed a 2-1 victory in Rennes.
Two first-half strikes ultimately proved decisive for Asako Takakura’s side, leaving Scotland needing to beat Argentina in their final group match to have any chance of qualifying for the knockout stages.
With both sets of supporters creating a vibrant atmosphere inside Roazhon Park, the first effort of the match fell to Japan with seven minutes on the clock as Emi Nakajima dragged a volley wide of the left-hand upright.
At the other end, it was Scotland’s newest centurion Hayley Lauder who was the first to test Ayaka Yamashita, the Glasgow City left-back curling a shot into the arms of the Japanese goalkeeper on 10 minutes.
An even opening quarter saw chances at a premium, as both teams searched for an opening in the opposition defence. With defences on top, any defensive lapses were likely to be key and so it proved on 22 minutes. A loose defensive header from Scotland was picked up by Nakajima, whose short pass found Mana Iwabuchi on the edge of the penalty area. The Japan striker lashed the ball into the roof of Lee Alexander’s net, handing the Asian champions the lead.
Buoyed by the opening goal, Japan immediately went in search of a second. Only last-ditch defence from Jen Beattie and Kirsty Smith prevented Iwabuchi from recording a quickfire double, before a vital goal-line clearance from Kim Little denied Japan captain Saki Kumagai on the half-hour mark.
For the second match in a row, however, Scotland found themselves on the wrong end of a penalty decision. Rachel Corsie was deemed to have fouled Yuiki Sugasawa, with the Japan striker dusting herself down to send Alexander the wrong way and double her team’s advantage.
In search of a response before the interval, Shelley Kerr’s side created their best chance of the opening period on 41 minutes. Good interplay between Hayley Lauder, Lizzie Arnot and Little eventually saw the ball break to Erin Cuthbert, with the Chelsea striker firing a snapshot just inches over the crossbar.
Yet Scotland fans had their hearts in their mouths in the final minute of the half – Hina Sugita’s hooked effort came back off the crossbar, with Scotland scrambling the ball clear as the half-time whistle sounded.
Knowing an improved attacking display would be required in the second half, it was Kerr’s team that created the first chance after the break, Caroline Weir’s effort safely gathered by Yamashita.
Equally, however, Scotland also knew that another Japanese goal could prove terminal, with Beattie’s late intervention denying Sugasawa the chance to add to her tally on 54 minutes.
The game was opening up for both sides – Cuthbert’s run and slide-rule pass to Lisa Evans almost saw the Arsenal winger race clear, whilst Alexander produced a top-class save to deny Jun Endo’s curling effort.
Cuthbert was becoming a more prominent figure in the game, picking up the ball after an imposing Beattie tackle and driving forward. From the resulting corner, Evans fired over the top from 20 yards after Yamashita had failed to gather the in-swinging cross.
Scotland were getting closer to finding the elusive breakthrough – substitute Claire Emslie’s dogged determination was causing Japan’s defence problems, whilst Cuthbert saw a goal-bound strike blocked by Kumagai with 15 minutes remaining.
Indeed as the game approached the final 10 minutes, it was Kerr’s side that was brining all of the attacking intent. Cuthbert rattled the post from close-range after a Weir corner had caused mayhem in the Japanese six-yard box, before having a penalty appeal waved away by the officials.
Evans was next to test Yamashita, forcing the Japan goalkeeper to produce a diving stop to her right-hand side.
Scotland finally got the reward their second-half display deserved with two minutes remaining, with an early contender for goal of the tournament. Picking up the ball from a slack Japanese back-pass, Clelland curled a magnificent strike into the top corner from 25 yards. That Tartan Army was in full voice once more, as Scotland had their opponents on the ropes.
With Scotland pushing forward, though, Japan almost had a third. Once more, Alexander had to pull a save out of the top-drawer, clawing a shot from Sugita clear deep into injury time.
In similar fashion to Sunday’s defeat to England, however, the clock would ultimately be against Kerr’s side. It would be Japan that would claim a first win of the tournament, leaving Scotland facing a must-win match with Argentina at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday night.
Japan: Yamashita; Shimizu, Kumagai (capt), Ichise, Samashima; Nakajima, Miura, Sugita, Endo (Kobayashi 66); Sugasawa, Iwabuchi (Hasegawa 81).
Subs not used: Ikeda, Hirao, Utsugi, Sakaguchi, Minami, Takarada, Momiki, Miyagawa, Yokoyama, Miyake.
Scotland: Alexander; Lauder, Beattie, Corsie (capt), Smith; Weir, Little; Arnot (Emslie 59), Cuthbert, Evans (Brown 85); Ross (Clelland 76).
Subs not used: Lynn, Fife, Docherty, Love, Crichton, Arthur, Howard, J Murray, C Murray.