Scotland 3-3 Argentina is part of 90min's 20 Greatest Matches of the Decade series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next few weeks.
Sometimes, a game defines a tournament. Occasionally that's because that single match has picked up the narrative of that month and savaged it until only that game matters – that's the Germany 7-1 Brazil model – but more often it's just a game you can point to and go 'that, that has everything that made this tournament what it was, for better or worse'.
At the 2002 World Cup, that was South Korea's 2-1 golden goal win over Italy in the round of 16. At the 2019 World Cup, it was Scotland's frantic 3-3 draw with Argentina.
Scotland arrived in France for the 2019 Women's World Cup having never made it to the main tournament stage of the competition in their history, only to find themselves thrust into a group with the teams who finished second and third in Canada four years previous. That stung – but the tournament's 24-team format meant that four out of six teams who finished third in their group would qualify for the knockouts.
The scheduling of Group D's games meant that the last round of games saw England play Japan for the group win, while Argentina and Scotland faced off at the Parc des Princes with both having a chance to make the last 16 of the tournament.
In theory, Scotland were coming into the game as underdogs. The Argentines had been to two World Cups in the past, and even picked up a point against Japan in their opening group match in France. Also...it's Argentina. They have a footballing history. Scotland is Scotland.
It wasn't that simple though. It never really is. Just three years before the 2019 World Cup kicked off, Argentina's women's team might as well not have existed. It's possible that, technically, it didn't exist. No coach, no FIFA ranking and no fixtures – when does a football team stop being a tangible thing?
Chronically underfunded and without a match for two years from 2015 to 2017, La Albiceleste's presence at the tournament was a minor miracle in itself. Combine that with the fact that, while they'd been to two World Cups before, those were in 2003 and 2007 – and they left with a combined six defeats, which they suffered by an aggregate of 33-2.
Argentina arrived into their day of destiny knowing that a win would put them through; but having failed to score a goal in their opening two matches – that 0-0 draw with Japan followed by a 1-0 defeat to England. Scotland could be fairly sure of the same thing, and had scored; losing both of their games 2-1.
Morning dawned in Paris and...the game didn't kick off until 9pm local time, so everyone just kinda hung around for a bit. Maybe had a lie in. Saw the physio. Dunno. Wasn't there. Anyway, it ended up being 9pm and 28,000 people in the Parc des Princes cheered the kickoff.
Scotland were ahead within 20 minutes, their first lead of the tournament given to them by Kim Little, set up by Erin Cuthbert after an initial save by Vanina Correa bounced loose. Goals after half time from Jennifer Beattie and Cuthbert herself gave Shelley Kerr's side a 3-0 lead with just 20 minutes to go, and a round of 16 berth looked assured.
Substitute played in substitute as Dalila Ippolito set free Milagros Menéndez – on her international debut – who slotted coolly past Lee Alexander to give Argentina a glimmer of hope with 15 minutes of normal time remaining.
Five minutes later, Kirsty Smith mis-kicked a clearance straight into the path of Florencia Bonsegundo, who twirled and twisted her way into space on the edge of the box and fired off a speculative shot...which pinballed between Alexander's outstretched hand and the crossbar before bouncing – agonisingly – over the line before the Scottish stopper could readjust and keep it out. To add insult to injury, it went down as an own goal.
Dramatic, sure. Exciting, absolutely. But even at a World Cup, it takes more than a thrilling comeback to be one of the 20 greatest games of the decade.
..........And then VAR starts to rumble into view.
Injury time. Aldana Cometti. Penalty box. Brought down. Nothing given.
Sophie Howard, only on the pitch for a couple of minutes, breathed a massive sigh of relief. She'd gotten away with one – until the next break in play a few seconds later, when referee Ri Hyang-ok went over to the video screen by the side of the pitch and overturned her decision.
Some 500 miles away, Phil Neville's Lionesses had wrapped up their 2-0 win over Japan to finish top of the group and the English press pack were huddled around a couple of phone screens in the mixed zone in Nice, paying more attention to the goings on in Paris than what they'd just seen in front of them.
Lee Alexander stood poised on her line to face down Bonsegundo, looking to redeem herself against the woman whose shot she'd palmed into her own net barely ten minutes earlier. The Argentine number 11 stepped up, Alexander flung herself forward and to her right and got her whole body behind the ball before leaping once again to smother the rebound. It was a textbook penalty double-save, and one which should've cemented Scotland's first ever World Cup win.
Scottish players mobbed their hero when the whistle blew for a free kick a couple of minutes later, which meant that not all of them noticed when the referee's hand went to her ear. Video officials had been red-hot on goalkeepers 'encroaching' off their lines at penalties, and Alexander appeared to be just too soon going forward. Some angles showed that her foot may have been hovering over the line as Bonsegundo struck the ball, but the decision was made.
The penalty was retaken.
Scotland were eliminated from the World Cup. So were Argentina.
No winners. Just VAR.
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