Scotland’s chances of qualifying from their Women’s World Cup group hang by a thread after defeat by Japan.
Shelley Kerr’s side had rarely been out of their own half by the time Mana Iwabuchi blasted a shot past goalkeeper Lee Alexander after 22 minutes.
With Japan dominating, Rachel Corsie was ruled to have hauled down Yuika Sugasawa and the striker sent the spot kick low into the corner.
A late Scotland rally produced a fine long-range Lana Clelland finish.
But consecutive 2-1 defeats leave Kerr’s side bottom of the table without a point and needing a win over Argentina if they are to have a chance of making the knock-out stage as one of the four best third-placed sides.
For former world champions Japan, who opened with a disappointing draw, it ends a run of five games without a victory and they top the group with four points ahead of England’s evening game against Argentina.
Tale of three penalty claims and insipid starts
There is no doubt that Japan, ranked 13 places above Scotland in seventh in the world, deserved their victory, but Kerr’s side were left to rue another insipid first half and three penalty decisions that went against them.
The Scotland head coach obviously had a game-plan in her mind to beat the Japanese, with her starting XI showing four changes from the one that lost to England, including the dropping of winger Claire Emslie to the bench despite her goal in the opener.
It looked like the idea was to play the full-backs and wingers higher up the pitch to supply restored top goalscorer Jane Ross, but Japan coach Asako Takakura clearly had different ideas.
Having been criticised for Japan’s own lack of attacking intent in their opening goalless draw with Argentina, Takakura made three changes, including fielding an extra forward.
It was Scotland’s turn to look passive. There was a lack of tempo, imagination, movement, belief and, strangely, determination, with the likes of Kim Little and Erin Cuthbert looking far short of their world-class reputations.
Japan had already been knocking on the door by the time Alexander looked slow to react as Mana Iwabuchi, the forward handed a start after impressing as a substitute against Argentina, fired straight through the goalkeeper high into the centre of the net following a poor headed clearance from Corsie.
Their high press was forcing Scotland into aimless long balls forward, while their tiki-taka football was leaving their opponents looking disheartened and bewildered.
Rather than being Scotland’s creative force, Little’s biggest contribution was to head a Saki Kumagai header off the line after Alexander made a mess of coming for a cross.
When Sugasawa crumpled dramatically to the ground, it looked like a soft penalty award, but the video assistant referees agreed with referee Lidya Tafesse’s view that Corsie’s ill-advised hand on the striker’s shoulder was enough to award the spot kick.
It took 41 minutes for Scotland to threaten through Cuthbert’s 20-yard drive on to the roof of the net, while Japan went close to going into the break three ahead when Hina Sugita found the face of the crossbar.
As against England, it was only in the last 15 minutes, having thrown caution to the wind and having introduced Emslie then Clelland, that Scotland began to look like a side deserving of a place at the World Cup finals.
Cuthbert found the outside of a post from close range and looked to be clipped from behind by Sugita only for the officials to ignore Scottish pleas.
Lisa Evans had a shot pushed wide by goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita before another cry for a penalty failed to even win a VAR revue after Risa Shimizu looked to halt Cuthbert’s progress with a hand ball.
Scottish pressure eventually told when Clelland gathered Nana Ichise’s poor pass across the face of her own goal and produced a sublime finish from 18 yards, but the two minutes remaining quickly passed without an equaliser.
Player of the match – Mana Iwabuchi (Japan)
Claire Emslie topped our Player Rater as voted by the public. However, while the Scotland winger did make a big difference after coming on as a substitute with 30 minutes remaining, it would be churlish to suggest she outshone anyone in the blue jerseys that dominated the majority of the match.
With her 21st international goal, Japan forward Mana Iwabuchi not only set the tone with here fine finish but was the lynchpin of intricate passing that constantly had the Scots defence chasing shadows.