Shelley Kerr tries to calm World Cup exit fears by insisting Scotland planned for Argentina decider

Scotland's Erin Cuthbert (left) and manager Shelley Kerr during the FIFA Women's World Cup, Group D match at the Stade de Nice
Shelley Kerr says Scotland were prepared for needing to take three points from their final World Cup group stage match Credit: PA

As Scotland’s World Cup ambitions teeter on the edge of elimination, Shelley Kerr attempted to allay fears by insisting these were the results she had planned for all along. 

Scotland have started their first ever World Cup campaign with two losses from their two opening matches against England and Japan. Both times they went into the break 2-0 down, and both times they were on the comeback trail, having salvaged a goal, when the final whistle blew. 

Scotland's final Group D tie against Argentina on Wednesday is now a must-win to have any hope of achieving their aim of progressing to the knock-outs, but Kerr says she anticipated this scenario as the most likely before the tournament even began.

“I’d say the Argentina game was always going to be the big one for us," she said. "I’m not going to lie, I was hoping to get something out [of the first two matches], a point maybe. It wasn’t to be for us. 

“There’s still a chance for us to get out of the group, I’m so positive about it.”

What she might not have anticipated is the danger posed by Argentina. As a team who just a year ago were not sure they would make the tournament and whose ranking was unclassified after they did not play a single match between 2015 and 2017, they are easily the group underdogs. 

However their showing in France so far has surpassed expectations. At their last World Cup 12 years ago they lost 6-1 to England, but on Friday that deficit was reduced to 1-0. Combine that with their gutsy draw in their opener against Japan, and Argentina are a much more formidable prospect than Scotland might have initially imagined.  

But Kerr believes Scotland have also been outperforming their own 20th ranking, and that commentators did not give enough onus to the fact they were playing against top opposition in third-ranked England and the 2011 champions, Japan.

“The downside is that people think we should actually be beating these teams. Do I think we’re quite there yet? I don’t, I’m giving my honest opinion,” she said.

“Our key thing is that we’ve been 2-0 down in both games and I think a Scottish team in the past would maybe have gone on to lose 4 or 5-0. Instead we’ve come away with a narrow defeat against third and seventh place in the world. It’s not the worst.

“I think we’ve got a little bit to go but there are real signs of this team are improving and growing.”

Those two goals scored by Claire Emslie and Lana Clelland could prove vital if they were to beat Argentina this Wednesday. Four third-placed teams will progress from the group stages, and it is set to be a tight race for qualification where goal difference will likely play a part. Kerr admitted on Friday that she had been working out the calculations and permutations of the other groups' remaining fixtures since their loss to England

Erin Cuthbert hit the post against Japan Credit: GETTY IMAGES

"I’ve been up all week looking, and we’ve been watching the games. We’re in a situation where it’s the third and fourth placed teams playing last, but some of them [in other groups] already played. 

"We’ve always been speaking about goal difference. The message at half time in both was you don’t concede another, you try and get one back. People will criticise me for maybe having a go, not sitting in and parking the bus, but I’m not going to do that."

On Friday their brave tactics could have paid off with at least a point, if not for questionable refereeing. Two possible Scotland penalties went ignored, without even a glimpse of VAR involvement. After a match in which Erin Cuthbert was Scotland's brightest player, she was brought down in the box in the 79th minute and then was contending with the Japanese player who looked to handle the ball in the area. 

Cuthbert, 20, remained forward-thinking post-match despite the injustice though, with her focus on rectifying Scotland's first-half struggles for the Argentina match. 

"It’s just so disappointing that we made it so hard for us in the first half. But when we put pressure on [Japan] they started to make mistakes and didn’t look as good. 

"We fought back and we really wanted that equaliser. I’m absolutely gutted it didn't go in the back of the net but [against] Argentina we’ve got a chance to make it right."