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England boss Phil Neville has come into the press conference and without a question being asked, said he had something to say: "I want to speak first. One: Steph Houghton was player of the match and can't be here as she's on the treatment table, from the tackle that everyone saw. She needs to recover, she’s in a lot of pain. It’s not Fifa’s fault, this time. "Secondly, 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. 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. I didn’t enjoy the game. My players didn’t enjoy the game, apart from getting to the quarter-finals. "All the young boys and girls watching...and we’ve had five, six and seven million people watching back at home against Cameroon with that kind of behavior. That’s pretty sad. I’ve got to tell the truth to everyone. I’m so proud of their behaviour. It takes you back to times when you went home crying with your ball."
Neville: “It didn’t feel like football. It was a good win, we played OK. “That wasn’t football in terms of the behaviour. This is going out worldwide! I didn’t enjoy it, my players didn’t enjoy it.” “There are young girls out there seeing that behaviour and it’s not right.” How much sympathy did you have for them? “None!” “I think the referee took pity on them as we should have had a penalty and them a player sent off.” “I am proud of my players for having discipline and going out and playing football.” Scathing from Phil.
Well, well, well. What a fun encounter in Valenciennes. England never really got going in this match but have come out of it with a really simple win but that is not the story. VAR has taken centre stage once again and the reaction of the Cameroon players to the second goal will be remembered for a long time to come. Takounda with a horrible stamp on Houghton who lands on the Cameroon coach in the technical area. It was a needless challenge at this stage of the game. Onguene is right in the referee’s face again. Not a great day for Cameroon this. We are going to VAR for the challenge as it was a red card. The referee gives Takounda a yellow, despite it looking like a red to me. Let’s just get this done with.
There was - in chronological order - an elbow in the jaw, an alleged spitting, a refusal to re-start the game, not once but twice by Cameroon, after one goal was given and another disallowed, an accusation of racism and - yes - yet more VAR intervention. Lots and lots of VAR intervention, in fact, although when England should have been awarded a penalty near the end, after a foul on Fran Kirby, the Chinese referee Qin Liang had evidently had enough and somehow did not give it despite checking it on the pitch-side screen.
There were boos from the neutral fans also, who were cheering on Cameroon, feeling they were hard done by, but England deservedly took the victory that sets them up for a last-eight tie in Le Havre against Norway on Thursday. It was to England’s immense credit that while confusion reigned they remained calm with Jill Scott, making her 18th World Cup appearance, overtaking Peter Shilton’s record, outstanding in midfield. The only concern was a late injury to captain Steph Houghton who had her ankle stood on, but was able to continue.
The drama started in the opening minutes when Nikita Parris appeared to be elbowed in the jaw by defender Yvonne Leuko with only a yellow card was shown by Qin. That appeared lenient and raised the question as to why it was not referred by the VAR. If Cameroon were fortunate then, then they were possibly unlucky when Augustine Ejangue cut out Ellen White’s cross before it reached Toni Duggan. Goalkeeper Annette Ngo Ndom picked it up and an indirect free-kick was awarded on the edge of the six-yard area. But was it a mis-control or a back-pass?
England took advantage. Duggan rolled the ball to Houghton who found the corner of the net. All 11 Cameroon players had stood on the goal-line but not one was covering the far post. It did not help Ejangue’s cause that she shielded the ball and signalled to Ngo Ndom to pick it up which made it look more deliberate. But was her next act also deliberate? As she protested to the referee Ejangue clearly spat on Duggan’s arm, but replays showed she was looking at the official and not the player. She escaped punishment.
On half-time there was another talking point. Lucy Bronze collected the clearance of her own cross and charged goalwards before flicking the ball into White who coolly curled it around the goalkeeper. Immediately the striker was pulled up for offside but the VAR intervened. Rightly that decision was overturned and White had her fourth goal of this World Cup. Cameroon were incensed. As they walked towards half-way for the re-start a freeze-frame of the incident was shown on the big screen with Parris in an offside position but not interfering with play. Even so it made Cameroon even angrier. They appeared to be refusing to play as they argued with the referee and delayed the re-start.
Captain Gabrielle Ngo Mbeleck was spoken to by the official before pleading with her team-mates to continue. Eventually they did but at half-time their protests continued, led by coach Alain Djeumfa, with claims they had been discriminated against, and there were more boos from the crowd. Early in the second half the drama intensified even further when Cameroon believed they had pulled a goal back – only for that to be disallowed after VAR showed that Onguene had come back from an offside position, marginal but just offside, before crossing for Ajara Nchout to side-foot high past goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, who had erred in giving the ball away with a poor clearance. Again there was a long delay as Cameroon protested with Nchout in tears and her coach, Djeumfa, having to console her and persuade her to carry on. Bardsley redeemed herself when Alex Greenwood’s back-pass was intercepted by substitute Alexandra Takounda. With almost her first touch she found herself clear on goal only for Bardsley to block her low shot. It was then Greenwood’s turn to make amends as England finally scored from a set-piece. It came from a corner with Duggan pulling the ball back into the path of the left-footer who struck it first-time beyond Ngo Ndom. There were seven minutes of added time. By then Phil Neville had brought on Lucy Staniforth and Leah Willamson, which meant that only third-choice goalkeeper Mary Earps had not made an appearance at this tournament. It was quite a game for them to both make their debuts even if, by then, the result was certain. Even if much else appeared more confused.
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