A night of incredible drama at the Parc des Princes saw Scotland and Argentina both eliminated from the World Cup after the South Americans somehow found a way back from three goals down with only 16 minutes remaining.
Goals from Kim Little, Jen Beattie and Erin Cuthbert appeared to have all but assured Scotland would qualify for the last 16 but three goals in 20 minutes – the last one arriving through two VAR decisions near the death – ensured an outcome that suited neither team.
The Paris ground has seen many dramatic moments, but surely none to match the events which sent Scotland home with one point from their three Group D matches.
Shelley Kerr made three changes to the side which lost to Japan. Left back Nicola Docherty and winger Claire Emslie returned to the starting line-up, while Leanne Crichton came in beside Caroline Weir in central midfield, allowing Kim Little and Erin Cuthbert both to move up a position.
Argentina manager Carlos Borrello, chasing the win that would definitely take his side into the last 16, switched to a more attacking formation. Captain Estefania Benini joined Lyon-bound striker Sole Jaimes up front.
The Scots wasted no time mounting their first attack, Weir latching on to a loose ball and setting up an attack down the left. The Manchester City player also gave the final touch to Cuthbert, but her shot from the edge of the box was just wide.
The early raid, and Argentina’s abandonment of the blanket defence which had served them so well in the opening two group games, was confirmation that both sides were aiming for the three points required on the night. Crichton, with a heavy challenge on Jaimes, also demonstrated that there was finally more bite in the Scottish midfield.
Nevertheless it was Argentina who took the initiative and Scotland had a double escape just before taking the lead themselves. Banini sent a lovely chipped pass to Florencia Bonsegundo and her cross was met by a firm header from Mariana Larroquette at the far post – only for the ball to hit the bar above Lee Alexander.
The rebound fell to Jaimes, but although she struck the ball well from close range Glasgow City goalkeeper Alexander made a fine block.
The double escape was even more meaningful when Scotland quickly took the lead. Emslie fed Cuthbert, who drove into the box and shot which Vanina Correa parried out. Cuthbert squared the rebound to Little and the Arsenal captain put the Scots ahead for the first time in the tournament.
The goal, which was the playmaker’s 54thfor Scotland, put even more onus on the South Americans to open up, with both side serving up entertaining football for the big crowd in Paris. Scotland captain Rachel Corsie was having a busy night keeping the powerful Jaimes in check, and had to make a timely intervention in the box to prevent the striker getting a shot away from close range.
Cuthbert, with her clever movement and flicks, was having a big influence on the proceedings, as was Emslie on the left and a smart move involving the two attackers need a near post smother by Correa to prevent a second goal.
That only had to wait four minutes into the second half. Weir took a corner on the right which the Argentina defence failed to clear. Little latched on to it, fed Weir again, and her cross was headed past Correa by Jen Beattie from close range.
It was the Arsenal-bound defender’s first Scotland goal for nearly four years and could not have been better timed. The header meant Argentina needed three goals to progress to the knock-out stages, and understandably some of the resolve went out of their play as Scotland took command and searched for a third.
That nearly arrived midway through the half, and Cuthbert’s irresistible persistence delivered it. She shrugged off two tackles and fired in a shot which was deflected round the post – but her goal was merely delayed a few seconds.
Weir took the corner and although Correa did really well to deflect Crichton’s header against a post, Cuthbert was almost inevitably prowling to take advantage.
Even so, Argentina weren’t finished and two second half substitutes combined to quickly pull one back. Milagros Menendez linked with Delila Ippolito and took the return pass to send the ball past Alexander.
Cuthbert, with a close range header, nearly restored the advantage but it was Argentina who scored again. This time the scorer was Bonsegundo, with Alexander failing to hold her shot and the ball hitting the inside of the bar before dropping over the line.
An incredible second half continued when substitute Sophie Howard tackled Aidana Cometti in the box and after an interminable VAR delay North Korean referee Ri Hyang Ok pointed to the spot. Alexander saved Bonsegundo’s kick, but once again VAR came to the Argentinan’s rescue. The goalkeeper was adjudged to have moved off her line and Bonsegundo converted at the second attempt.