Erin Cuthbert was a beacon of positivity and enthusiasm despite Scotland’s 2-1 defeat by England in their first ever women’s World Cup match.
The 20-year-old striker showed glimpses of her brilliance during a tough game in Nice but a VAR penalty decision dealt Shelley Kerr’s side a hammer blow before they could get going.
Nicola Docherty was adjudged to have blocked Fran Kirby’s cross with her arm and, after a brief consultation, referee Jana Adamkova awarded Phil Neville’s team a spot-kick.
Nikita Parris kept a cool head and before Scotland really knew what had hit them they were 2-0 down as Ellen White stayed composed to slot the ball beyond Lee Alexander.
However, with 15 minutes left to play, Scotland found a second wind and began to put some flowing football together with Lisa Evans and Claire Emslie combining well for the latter to halve the deficit.
An equaliser was ultimately beyond Kerr’s side, but Chelsea’s Cuthbert was filled with pride on the occasion that will go down in history as one of the greatest in Scottish women’s sport.
“It was the biggest honour. There were so many Scotland fans, maybe more than England fans, so it was incredible to walk out for my country at a World Cup for the first time,” she said.
“It was everything I dreamed of as a little girl and I was quite emotional during the national anthem, but I managed to hold it all together.
“You only need to look at the rankings to see that we were underdogs – they are third in the world and they are there for a reason.
“But I think you also need to look at the bigger picture. We lost 6-0 in our last meeting with England [at Euro 2017] and have been quite heavily defeated but the strides that this team have made have been immense.
“The strides that this team has made – we have kept the ball more, created chances and got really unlucky in the end – you have to look at the bigger picture in terms of [what we have done] as a group over the last two years.”
Scotland were without their midfield maestro Kim Little for that game in the Netherlands but arrived in France with a fully-fit squad to give themselves the best possible chance of progressing through the competition.
Manager Kerr has previously stated the team’s primary focus is to get out of the group stage and, with a system in place whereby the third-placed team in Group D could still make it to the knockout stage, defeat might not be the end of the world. Cuthbert admitted that she did not see the incident that led to VAR awarding England the game-changing penalty but remains confident that those in charge of guiding the referee made the right call.
“It was really unlucky with the VAR decision. I haven’t seen it back but you trust the decision they make is correct,” she said.
“It all happens in real time you know – I am a striker so I am always 40 yards away from the decision and can’t see why it is given but it has been looked over by so many people.
“You always leave yourself exposed when you put your hands up in the box, but it is also unlucky because it is a natural reaction, but I suppose that is football.
“At the end of the day we are still disappointed to lose, and I am absolutely gutted myself, but we have to see the bigger picture.
“Shelley [Kerr] did say at half-time that ‘every goal matters’ so we had to shut up shop at half-time and then we managed to get a goal of our own and I really thought we were going to get an equaliser and I thought I would get that one chance, but it never broke for me.
“We have ended up narrowly losing to our fiercest rivals – it is maybe the best result as a loss, but I can’t see past that right now.”
There was an air of familiarity between the two sides, with many of the starting 11 playing their club football in the FA WSL.
Arsenal’s Kim Little has so often in the past proved to be vital in making the Scotland midfield tick over, but she failed to find her rhythm in the first half which meant chances were few and far between for Cuthbert.
Instead, it was the youngster’s Chelsea team-mate Kirby, pictured left, who was making things happen for England and Cuthbert knows what the team needs to do to gets a win on the board next time out against Japan.
“Second half we pressed them a little bit higher and we kept the ball. We are a ball-playing team and we did that a little bit more in the second half and created more chances because of it,” she said.
“We can’t let it get to half-time, though, that is the point because we need to regroup and start playing our game and cope with the adversity.
“We need to take that into the Japan game and possess the ball a lot more too.”
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