By Mitch Phillips
VALENCIENNES, France (Reuters) – England beat Cameroon 3-0 to advance to the women’s World Cup quarter-finals on Sunday in a match marked by remarkable scenes as the African side twice reacted furiously to video assistant referee (VAR) decisions that went against them, initially refusing to restart the game.
After England’s second goal by Ellen White at the end of the first half was initially ruled out for offside then, rightly, allowed via VAR, several Cameroon players remonstrated with the referee, furiously pointed to the screen in stadium which showed the replay and for a long time refused to restart the match.
VAR replays are not shown on big screens inside the stadium though “normal” replays were, some of which clearly seemed to indicate to the Cameroon players that they were being treated unjustly.
At halftime they refused to go off and join their coach, instead staying in the center circle in a huddle.
They thought they had pulled a goal back early in the second half, only for VAR to again rule against them for a marginal offside – sparking more chaotic scenes. Players were shouting at the referee, pointing again to the big screens, substitutes were berating the fourth official and one player stood alone on the pitch jumping up and down in a furious rage.
Instead of taking firm action to force the players to restart, Chinese referee Qin Liang took an age, speaking gently to them before their coach persuaded them to kick off.
The game then turned ugly with strong challenges, elbowing, an accusation of spitting and, in the final act, an horrific tackle on England’s Steph Houghton that, belatedly and again via VAR, earned Alexandra Takounda a yellow card when it looked a clear red card offence.
Furious England coach Phil Neville said what he had seen was “not football. I came to this World Cup to be successful and to play a part in making women’s football globally more visible. We wanted to put on a show,” he said. “I sat through 90 minutes of football there and felt ashamed. I was proud of performances, under circumstances I’ve never seen before. And I am completely and utterly ashamed of the opposition.
“All the young boys and girls watching… and we’ve had five, six and seven million people watching back at home… with that kind of behavior. That’s pretty sad. At times, we probably didn’t know whether the game would continue. My daughter wants to be a footballer and if she watches that she will think: ‘No, I want to play netball’.”
Former United States goalkeeper-turned pundit Hope Solo tried to give some balance when she suggested that the Cameroon team’s lack of resources and coaching expertise put them at a disadvantage. “We have to try and understand that,” she told BBC Radio 5-Live. “Perhaps they weren’t even told about the rules, the laws of the game and the evolution of the game, so your heart has to go out a little bit to them.”
Their coach Alan Djeumfam, who was remarkably restrained through the mayhem and tried hard to calm his players, said that every decision went against his side and that they suffered a “miscarriage of justice.”
Former England defender Neville, however, said he had no sympathy. “Rules are rules. For the second goal, White was onside – deal with it,” he said.
“We’re spoken to by FIFA about 350,000 times and in the end, the referee took pity on them. A team that are refusing to play… I’m proud of my players for playing a game of football.”
England took the lead in the 14th minute when Houghton drilled the ball low from an indirect free kick inside the penalty area, after Cameroon goalkeeper Annette Ngo Ndom collected a backpass from defender Augustine Ejangue.
White then scored her fourth goal of the tournament as she collected a clever pass from Lucy Bronze to fire home – sparking the first of the protests.
Ajara Nchout then pulled one back, only to be denied by VAR on what looked another, albeit very tight, correct decision, leaving her appearing distraught and fuming and her team mates in a huddle and refusing to restart.
A then-dominant England added a third through Alex Greenwood following a well worked corner in the 58th minute.
Alongside the VAR fallout, the game was marked by indiscipline and rash challenges throughout. England’s Toni Duggan claimed she had been spat on while Cameroon captain Gabrielle Onguene somehow escaped punishment for screaming at the referee and in the face of Houghton as she was receiving treatment on the side of the pitch.
It was hardly the glowing advertisement for the women’s game that FIFA had hoped for, though there will be no shortage of publicity as a result.
England will need to quickly get over the less savory aspect of the match and turn their attention to what will be a far stiffer test when they face Norway in Le Havre in the last-eight. The Scandinavians beat Australia on penalties on Saturday.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru and Mitch Phillips; additional reporting by Christian Radnedge; Editing by Christian Radnedge)