WHILE there was an obvious sense of deja vu as Scotland's players left the field in Larnaca only to learn they had been denied a place in the Cyprus Women's Cup final by France, this emphatic win over Australia was another huge step in the right direction for Anna Signeul's team.

France's 94th-minute goal against the Netherlands in Nicosia, giving them the 3-0 win they needed to pip Scotland for first place in Group B on goal difference, killed expectations of an enticing final against England tomorrow.

But in no sense was it the crushing blow that felled the Scots when, in remarkably similar circumstances, Spain scored with the last kick of the ball in Madrid 17 months ago to deny the side a place in the finals of Euro 2013.

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This time Scotland, for whom Jane Ross notched a hat trick, could not have prevented the French goal. Yet, even so, they could have gone through themselves had it not been for the highly contentious nature of Australia's opener.

Scotland, who had raced into a 3-0 first-half lead for the second game running, were cruising comfortably when their opponents mounted an attack midway through the second half.

The far side official, Eleonora Cappello of Italy, raised her flag for offside but the ball reached substitute Michelle Hayman who took advantage of the static Scotland defence to place the ball past Gemma Fay.

To the consternation of the Scottish players experienced Swedish referee Jenny Palmqvist let the goal stand. Whatever the rights and wrongs - and Signeul said later she would withhold judgment until studying the video - one of the oldest tenets in football is to play to the whistle.

That goal, as much as France's later one, cost Scotland their final place but the outcome should not detract from what they have achieved in the tournament so far.

Signeul, indeed, said she was unconcerned that England would not be the opponents tomorrow and welcomed the opportunity of a very different test against South Korea in the match for third and fourth places.

Having drawn with France and beaten the Netherlands, the Scots dominated this third group match. Up front Lisa Evans and Jane Ross shredded the Australian defence time and time again, with Evans' electric runs leaving the Aussies flat-footed.

The tone of the game was set in the first 10 minutes when Australian goalkeeper Brianna Davey had to make five saves. None of them were particularly challenging, but they were a signal of Scotland's intent. The first goal arrived two minutes later and although it was more route one than the previous efforts it was also more effective.

Evans raced on to Hayley Lauder's through ball and gave Davey no chance as she notched her fourth goal in two games. Australia came more into the match, without ever threatening to score themselves, but were further undone by two goals for Jane Ross in as many minutes.

The Vittsjo striker took advantage of a bad slip by central defender Emma Checker to score the first, and then followed up Evans' blocked shot to make it 3-0 on the half hour.

Scotland had two more good chances just after the restart, by which time the demoralised Australians had made three substitutions. Then came the controversial goal, but it was quickly cancelled out when Ross made it 4-1 following an assist from substitute Jo Love.

Although Hayman pulled another one back, this time with a sweetly struck low shot from 20 yards, there was never any prospect of the Scots losing their lead. The best chance of the last 15 minutes fell to Love, but she just failed to get the touch which would have certainly made it five. "It's always nice to score a hat trick and help your country win," said Ross, who also scored three goals when Scotland beat Poland 4-0 in a World Cup qualifier last year.

"Yes, it's disappointing not to win the group and face England in the final - but it's another great result and the main point of this tournament for us is to prepare for the World Cup qualifiers, which start again next month.

"We have beaten two teams who are ranked much higher than us and drawn with a third. We have to be happy with that."

Earlier in the day England secured their place in the final with a 2-0 win over Canada in Nicosia.