PARIS – Was it a stunning comeback by Argentina, or a stunning collapse by Scotland?
There were plenty of voices on both sides Wednesday night at the Parc des Princes, but at the final whistle many of the 28,205 fans in attendance agreed that the result was unsatisfying.
A cascade of boos and whistles rained down on referee Ri Hyang Ok at the end of the 3-3 draw, which was decided on a re-taken penalty kick in the 94th minute by Argentina’s Florencia Bonsegundo.
Scotland goalkeeper Lee Alexander had saved the initial attempt, and made a further diving stop of the rebound. But the VAR booth caught her jumping off the goal line before the initial shot was struck.
When Bonsegundo stepped to the spot again, Alexander barely moved as the ball went in the net.
The original four minutes of stoppage time ended as players returned to the center circle, and Ri blew her whistle to end the game almost immediately after the kickoff. She wasn’t all that demonstrative about it, though, and players from both teams were initially unsure of what was happening.
Asked if there was enough communication from Ri, Alexander gave a blunt answer: “No.”
Scotland centerback Rachel Corsie, the team’s captain, had the strongest words of all.
“It feels like it’s been stripped away from us unfairly,” she said. “The ref struggled to communicate the whole game. I don’t understand a lot of the decisions that were made. I totally support VAR and helping benefit the game and making more right decisions, but I would say consistently over this tournament it’s been very, very controversial, and a lot of the decisions have been extremely underwhelming.”
No one on Scotland’s team denied that they led 3-0 with 23 minutes to play and didn’t win. But the game was ultimately decided on a penalty kick drawn in the 86th minute, whistled after a VAR review in the 89th, taken in the 92nd, recalled in the 93rd and retaken in the 94th, with the final whistle coming at 95:11.
That seemed to be a bit much, especially on a night when Ri swallowed her whistle often until well into the second half.
“There’s ultimately moments that are cruel, and you deal with that, but I think the injustice at times is what’s hard to live with, and there certainly feels like there were several injustices tonight,” said Corsie, who plays her club soccer for the NWSL’s Utah Royals. “We’re being so articulate and specific on some tiny details, yet I think the referee lost complete control of the game. … I’ll take the rules, and I want to play by the rules – there’s a whole rule book, and I want to play by all of them, and some of them tonight weren’t seemingly played by.”
Across the field, there will rightly be plenty of praise for Argentina’s historic success at this World Cup. If Thursday’s results break just so – the odds are slim, but not impossible – the draws against Japan and Scotland could be enough to sneak into the round of 16.
That would be an extraordinary feat for a team that had scored just two goals all-time in the Women’s World Cup before Wednesday, and none since 2007. It’s not a coincidence that no men’s soccer superpower in the world treats its women’s team worse.
The odds of a turnaround seemed especially slim when star playmaker Estefania Banini was surprisingly subbed off in the 60th minute. It seemed like coach Carlos Borrello might have been waving the white flag, and Banini did not hide her displeasure as she left the field. But at the end of the night, she was celebrating a team that refused to quit.
“I’m more than proud of this team, these women,” Banini sad “We’re one of the teams that gets to do the least work, that has one of the smallest histories in women’s soccer. … This team has an attitude and a fighting spirit that’s totally different from any other national team squad I’ve been part of.”
This was Scotland’s first World Cup too, don’t forget, and they have their own history of fighting institutional discrimination. Reaching the round of 16 in their debut would have been an outstanding achievement, and they were so close to getting there.
Surely this summer will be a launching pad to greater success and exposure. After watching dramatic games against England and Japan, the Tartan Army got behind its women’s soccer team like never before. They flocked to Paris by the thousands, belted out the national anthem before kickoff and stayed loud all night.
“The support from the start has been exceptional, and it’s something that has made this tournament something extra special for all the girls,” Corsie said. “For us as a national team, we’ve never experienced that.”
She and her teammates fully intend to experience it again.
“We’re resilient, were tough, we’re one, we support one another, we pick each other up, we do absolutely everything to make sure we’re back on this stage,” Corsie said. “We want to be here, we feel we deserve to be here, we’ve earned the right to be here, and we want to go and show the world what we can do.”