The play-offs to decide the final few places at next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup began today. Scotland were up against Euros quarterfinalists, Austria, for a ticket to Australia and New Zealand next year.
Scotland lined up in a 4-3-3 on paper but it was really a 4-2-3-1 on the pitch with Caroline Weir playing in the number 10 role. Erin Cuthbert sat as the deepest midfielder in that pivot and Martha Thomas led the line up front.
Austria on the other hand lined up in their typical 4-1-4-1 shape with the midfield trio of Sarah Puntingham, Sarah Zadrazil and Laura Feiersinger. Nicole Billa, country’s second highest goalscorer, led the line with Barbara Dunst and Julia Hickelsberger on either flanks.
The first half was a cagey affair where neither team could settle into a rhythm due to heavy rain and opponent’s gameplan. Both teams were looking to deny central corridor and matched each other on the wide areas. This resulted in both teams finding it difficult to find penetration into the box.
The best chance of the first half for Scotland came from a moment of quality from Caroline Weir in the box, where she was able to demonstrate her first touch and close control before getting the shot off. Austria hit the crossbar via Julia Hickelsberger’s shot from the edge of the box and that was possibly the closest any side came to scoring.
The second half saw Austria come out a lot more positive and managed to record some shots from around the edge of the penalty area but none really threatened the frame of the goal. Erin Cuthbert had an excellent performance as an all action deepest midfielder as she screened the backline really well and helped sweep any danger. Scotland started pressing better in the dying minutes and looked to mount pressure on Austria.
Scotland were quick to mount pressure in the opening minutes of the added extra time, continuing their momentum from the end of 2nd half, and won back-to-back corners, which resulted in the match winning goal. Cuthbert’s delivery was met brilliantly by substitute, Abi Harrison, rising highest at the far post. Scotland’s persistence had paid off.
Beyond this point it was all about game management as Austria tried to attack a lot more and that in turn left more space to be exploited by Scotland. Austria did come close on occasions but it wasn’t meant to be and Scotland almost doubled their lead towards the end of the added extra time.
Weir had a decent game by her standards. Initially floating across the front line very frequently, she was consistently marked by opposition and often outnumbered on the ball. She was still able to produce moments of brilliance with her first touch and reception on the turn. She was almost set-up for Scotland’s second towards the end of the game but the ball was cleared. Her press-resistance was a vital part in helping Scotland manage the game better and retain possession. Her game reading and awareness was vital in blocking passing lanes to executing the game plan off the ball.
Scotland have one final obstacle to overcome in their bid to reach their second consecutive FIFA Women’s World Cup. They face Ireland on 11th October.