The 2019 Women’s World Cup, Group D: England Do… Enough
Japan 2-1 Scotland
It’s still possible, of course. Three points will likely to be enough to edge one more than one third-placed team through to the knockout stages of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, and having scored two goals in their two matches gives them another small advantage, should goal differences end up being tied. That, however, is about the full extent of the good news for Scotland following a second successive narrow defeat against decent opposition, a result which put them in need of an England win against Argentina in the evening match in order to avoid adding a chapter to a lengthy Scottish history of getting knocked out of major football tournaments at the earliest available opportunity.
If Scotland do end up eliminated from this tournament, though, it won’t be for a want of trying. They gave everything this afternoon against a Japan team whose performance was substantially improved upon from their fairly tame performance in their opening match against Argentina. Japan completely dominated the first half, taking the lead after fourteen minutes thanks to a looping shot from the edge of the penalty area from Mana Iwabuchi which goalkeeper Lee Alexander, with defenders in front of her, seemed to see late. Eight minutes from half-time, the lead was doubled from the penalty spot after Rachel Corsie found herself entangled with Yuki Sugasawa. Sugaswawa herself stepped up to convert. In the closing stages of the half, Japan also hit the crossbar and had a chance cleared from the goal line. It looked, in those ten minutes before half-time, as though things might be about to spiral out of control.
Scotland, however, got a grip on proceedings during the second half and even in defeat have given themselves a chance of getting through. Asides from the obvious outlier of the United States of America vs Thailand, this World Cup has been characterised by tighter matches than were predicted before the tournament started and it’s entirely plausible that qualification for the next round might come down to a matter of goals scored. Scotland play Argentina in their final match needing a win to have any chance whatsoever of getting through to the next round of the competition. They have to win that match. Any less than that will mean elimination from the competition. But a win would give them a fighting chance of getting through after all. It’s not much to cling on to, but it’s better than nothing.
England 1-0 Argentina
There’s a rivalry, of course there’s a rivalry, but it’s different. In the men’s game, Argentina and England occupy similar spaces, although Argentina, with two World Cups and fourteen Copa Americas, have been rather successful. The same cannot be said in the women’s game. England got to the semi-finals of the last World Cup finals. They were semi-finalists in the European Championships in 2017 and runners-up in that competition, four years earlier. By comparison, the Argentinian team had effectively been disbanded in 2015, only being brought back to life two years later. English complacency, however, would be misplaced. Argentina went into this evening’s game having already managed to hold Japan to a goalless draw in their opening match.
For twenty-five minutes Argentina were stubborn, defending deeply and crowding England’s players out as they got close to their penalty area. Then, though, a moment of drama. Alex Greenwood cut in from the left-hand side and her sudden turn of pace was too much for Argentina’s Bravo, who felled her in a rare example of a penalty kick given without any assistance from the VAR. Nikita Parris stepped up to take the penalty, but the Argentine goalkeeper Vanina Correa guessed the right way and palmed the ball deftly onto the post, only for Jodie Taylor to screw the rebound wide of the post. Still England pressed, with Argentina dropping all eleven players back behind the ball.
A graphic flashed on the television screen with about ten minutes to play of the first half showing that England had already made more than 150 passes. But they couldn’t find a way through a massed rank of Argentinian defenders or the goalkeeper. Beth Mead got clear on the left following some poor defending with five minutes of the half left to play, but her low shot was superbly blocked by Correa. Half-time came with the score still goalless, with England having almost completely dominated possession and the England goalkeeper almost entirely a spectator. This was going to require a degree of patience and a degree of concentration, on England’s part.
The second half began very much as the first had ended. It felt as though Argentina were starting to wilt, whilst England continued to press and press. Correa made two further excellent saves in the first ten minutes, but she couldn’t hold them back indefinitely. Just after the hour had passed, a superb England move ended with a one touch pass across goal from Beth Mead and, with the goalkeeper stranded, Jodie Taylor touched the ball home from close range. It was no less than England deserved for their near-complete domination of the game, but one would have to have a heart of formica not to feel sympathy for Correa, whose resistance had pretty much worn down in front of her very eyes over the previous twenty minutes or so.
The lead was never really in doubt. Argentina were tigerish enough in midfield to be able to win possession and work their way into semi-promising positions at times, but their final ball seldom even got close to troubling the centre of the England defence. But as the clock ran down, so England’s game management cut in. If Argentina couldn’t get the ball, they couldn’t score a goal. Pretty basic, but true nevertheless and England ran down the last few minutes with a flurry of unnecessary substitutions before the whistle blew and their win was confirmed. They’re through to the second round and it would take quite a collapse in their final match against Japan for them to not win the group. But this England team expects a semi-final place, if not further. If they’re going to meet those aspirations, they’re going to need to be more incisive than they were tonight.
Argentina, meanwhile, go into their final match with Scotland knowing that they can snatch second place if Japan fail to beat England, whilst Scotland will also be aware of the fact that three points could yet be enough to see them sneak into one of the third place spots given a fair wind elsewhere. It’s worth dwelling upon the quality of the Argentina performances over these two games, though. One of the emerging themes of the last seven days has been that the gap between teams is closing, despite the USA’s act of assault and battery upon Thailand on Wednesday night. Spain, Italy and Argentina have all proved themselves to be sticky opponents so far, and it’s yet possible that one of them might end up in the very latter stages of the tournament. Argentina’s players are still amateurs. Who knows what they might be capable of should they be able to win greater backing from the AFA.