On Wednesday, Argentina and Scotland played the most exciting game of the 2019 World Cup so far, an action-packed 3–3 blockbuster full of frantic attacks and desperate defending. Too bad its result will likely have no effect on the tournament’s status quo.
Argentina was the biggest Cinderella left in the tournament, a team that has triumphed over the apathy and animosity of its own federation to give good games to two of the world’s top 10 teams. Perennial underdog Scotland was looking to become the first Scottish team, women’s or men’s, to make it out of the first round at a World Cup. Stakes were high; both teams needed a win. After playing for maximal defensive integrity versus both Japan and England, giving up only one goal in 180 minutes on the pitch with those two powerhouses, Argentina would finally need to put some offense together. Scotland was equally desperate; it needed to score as many goals as possible to put itself in position to advance as a third-place qualifier.
Argentina did commit players forward in attack for the first time all tournament, but the team’s real issue seemed to be a defense that had lost the intensity that kept its first two matches so tight. All three of Scotland’s goals came after Argentina fell asleep and was beaten to second-chance balls by the Scottish attackers. The score was 3–0 in the 70th minute. Argentina manager Carlos Borrello seemed to throw in the towel, removing forwards Estefania Banini and Sole Jaimes.
Or maybe yanking his two best attacking players while down three goals was all part of his master plan. Substitute Milagros Menéndez scored Argentina’s first just minutes after Jaimes left the field. Five minutes later, Florencia Bonsegundo cracked a shot from distance that bounced off the crossbar and off Scottish goalkeeper Lee Alexander to get Argentina within one. The stage was set for a finish for the ages.
Instead, the World Cup writers room recycled some of its beats from earlier in the season. A Scotland defender mistimed her tackle and brought down Argentina’s Aldana Cometti in the box. The play was reviewed by video assistant referee, and a belated penalty was awarded. Bonsegundo’s weak penalty kick was saved by Alexander, but for the third time this World Cup, a goalkeeper was judged to have left her line early, and a retake was ordered. (Some observers were not so sure.)
Bonsegundo scored on the second attempt, leaving Alexander looking like someone afraid to budge. The foul that led to the penalty was awarded in the 87th minute. The goal was finally scored in the 94th. Somehow there were only six minutes of stoppage time, even though if there were ever a time to turn off the clock and play “next goal wins,” this was it.
If the group stage ended Wednesday, Argentina would advance to the knockout stage as the final third-place team to qualify. The group stage does not end Wednesday. If there’s a winner Thursday in either the Cameroon–New Zealand or the Chile-Thailand game, that winning team’s three points will be enough to send Argentina home. Argentina’s fate is out of its hands now. It will spend the day rooting for a pair of sequels that hit all the same beats.