A SERIES of strange refereeing

decisions cost Scotland any chance of a win in Rennes, but Shelley Kerr’s side were outplayed for long periods of the game by the 2011 World Cup winners.

A fine strike by substitute Lana Clelland near the end brought a crumb of comfort and delivered her side the same scoreline as the opening game against England.

The result means any hope of a first-ever qualification for the knock-out stages depends on a win over Argentina in the last Group D game in Paris on Wednesday.

Kerr made four changes to the side which lost to England in Nice. Both full backs were changed, with Kirsty Smith coming in on the right and Hayley Lauder on the left. It was cap No.100 for the Glasgow City player.

Up front Lizzie Arnot replaced the scorer in Nice, Claire Emslie. Top scorer Jane Ross returned up front, with Erin Cuthbert dropping back to No.10 and Kim Little sitting deeper alongside Caroline Weir.

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The game started at a sedate pace but it was Japan who carved out the first chance after seven minutes. Striker Yuika Sugasawa made a well timed run to get behind the Scotland defence, fed the ball to Emi Nakajima, and her shot went just wide of Lee Alexander’s left hand post.

Scotland quickly responded with a good move down the left instigated by Lauder. Ross turned the ball back to Little, but her 20-yard shot was easily gathered by Ayaka Yamashita.

Scotland were second best for the next half hour as Japan’s quick movement and sharp passing allowed them to take control of the game.

Japan had already come close when Mana Iwabuchi, who went on to win the player-of-the-match award, dispossessed Weir near the byline. Her shot was from too tight an angle and Alexander saved at her near post.

The goal which had been threatening arrived midway through the half. Rachel Corsie’s weak headed clearance set up a chance for Iwabuchi and she fired past Jen Beattie and into the roof of the net above Alexander.

The keeper looked as if she might have done better, not getting her hands anywhere near the ball, but Beattie may have been obstructing her view. Japan continued to dominate.

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A Beattie block in the box denied Iwabuchi a second and they came even closer when Little had to head off the line to deny Saki Kumagai.

A second conceded penalty of the tournament gave Japan the opportunity to double their lead. This time there was no VAR involved, but Corsie’s arm contact with Yuika Sugasawa looked no more than a slight brush.

That wasn’t the view of Ethiopian referee Lidya Abebe and she pointed straight to the spot. Sugasawa took the penalty and stroked the ball coolly into the gaping space to the left of Alexander.

There was, at last, a decent effort from Scotland four minutes from the interval when Erin Cuthbert’s 20-yard shot was just too high. But the Japanese who came even closer to making it three in the minute added on as Hina Sugita struck the bar with a first time flick.

Little, for so long Scotland’s top performer, summed up her side’s low key display as she passed the ball sideways and backwards in the opening minutes of the second half when a spark of inspiration was required.

A Cuthbert surge through the middle offered better but Lisa Evans couldn’t get her shot away. That wasn’t the case at the other end, when Alexander had to make a fine save to deny an Emi Nakajima effort.

Emslie replaced Arnot on the hour and quickly provided the direct running her side had lacked all afternoon. Yet it wasn’t until the last 15 minutes that Kerr’s side finally managed to exert some real pressure.

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Cuthbert raised hopes of a comeback with a shot which hit the woodwork following a Weir free-kick, and then went down in the box under the challenge of Hina Sugita – but referee Abebe was having none of it.

The Ethiopian official then far more controversially overlooked a much stronger claim involving Cuthbert when Risa Shimizu clearly handled in the box. In between Japanese keeper Yamashita did well to parry Evans’ shot away for a corner.

The pressure finally paid off when Lana Clelland, who had replaced Evans, siezed on a rare Japanese loose ball. The Fiorentina striker’s intent was clear and she fired a fierce shot into the net past Yamashita.

It was too late to have any major effect on the outcome and Alexander had to make another good save to restrict the Japanese to two at the end, with Scotland’s attempts to push for an equaliser ultimately fizzling out.