Abigail Harrison sinks Austria to put Scotland on verge of World Cup | Women’s World Cup 2023

For Abigail Harrison and Scotland, the moment was worth waiting for. This World Cup playoff semi-final had rumbled into extra time before Harrison stooped to head in Erin Cuthbert’s corner. Austria appealed in vain for a handball as Harrison enjoyed euphoric celebration.

Scotland will return to Hampden Park on Tuesday, when they will face the Republic of Ireland for a possible berth in Australia and New Zealand next summer. The element of doubt stems from a ludicrously confusing playoff process.

On this evidence, the Scots would not trouble the leading lights in the tournament proper but focusing on such shortcomings would be churlish. Scotland emerged from this dour, tense battle. Semi-finals are rarely pretty. This one was played in front of 10,182; a record for a Scottish women’s competitive game.

“We have spoken about inspiring and I hope people felt that today,” said the Scotland coach, Pedro Martínez Losa. “We believed in what we were doing.” Austria’s progress to the semi-finals and quarter-finals in successive European Championships rendered them strong pre-match favourites. Scotland did not even qualify for the latter of those tournaments. Nicole Billa, who notched 13 times during the group stages of qualifying, led the visiting attack.

The hosts, though, opened brightly. Martha Thomas almost beat Manuela Zinsberger to the ball, 18 yards from goal, before Caroline Weir’s chipped effort was held by the Austria goalkeeper. In appalling conditions, this promised to be an attritional evening.

It took until midway through the first half for Billa to be afforded a sight of goal. The Hoffenheim forward’s curling effort landed on the roof of Lee Alexander’s net. Moments earlier, the Scotland captain Rachel Corsie had halted a promising Austrian counter-attack.

Scotland continued on the front foot. Only the late and crucial intervention of Laura Wienroither prevented Claire Emslie from sending the hosts in front. Weir, now of Real Madrid, was unsurprisingly central to all of Scotland’s promising play.

Austria’s defenders look on powerlessly as Abigail Harrison’s header goes towards the net.
Austria’s defenders look on powerlessly as Abigail Harrison’s header goes towards the net. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Austria finished the first period in charge. Julia Hickelsberger clipped the bar with a 20-yard shot. Yet the applause that greeted half-time was in response to a strong Scottish display.

Realisation of the high stakes seemed in play during a cagey second period. By the hour mark, neither goalkeeper had been called into serious action. Alexander’s fumble from a Verena Hanshaw free-kick almost posed a problem for Scotland but the ball was scrambled to safety. Scotland’s failure to hand Weir sufficient time on the ball was responsible for their sudden lack of invention. This had become a scrappy, messy contest. Hanshaw looked to raise the standard, courtesy of a fierce long-range drive which flew wide of Alexander’s left-hand post.

Hampden prayed for inspiration. The substitute Fiona Brown tried to provide it, with a header which failed to trouble Zinsberger. It had become increasingly apparent that the opening goal may well define the victor and, indeed, that extra time was a very real possibility. The situation was of benefit to Ireland, who could look on as Scotland and Austria slugged it out for the right to play them.

Sarah Zadrazil’s darting run beyond the Scotland defence preceded a shot which sailed into the Glasgow air. The industrious Harrison won Scotland a corner, from which no player could connect. It had become that kind of evening. Even Weir, normally so reliable, dragged an attempt well wide after breaking free from the shackles of an aggressive Austria midfield.

The finest opportunity of regular time was soon afforded to Austria’s Katja Wienerroither. Having bounded Sophie Howard off the ball, Wienerroither had just Alexander to beat. She miscued her shot totally, meaning Alexander was not even forced into a save.

Confirmation of four minutes of stoppage time triggered the loudest Hampden roar of the evening. It also saw Scotland win a flurry of corners. From one, Howard’s cute backheel failed to find a woman in navy blue. From another, Zinsberger desperately punched clear. Onwards to another half hour it was. Harrison had the crucial say.

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