FIFA Women’s World Cup Day 17:

RO16: ENGLAND 3-0 CAMEROON

England Captain Steph Houghton opens the scoring

England progressed to a quarter final showdown with Norway after weathering a physical storm from Cameroon. The goals were only half the story in a bruising and highly charged encounter in Valenciennes. By no means an accomplished display by the Lionesses technically, this was a victory for discipline. England kept theirs; Cameroon’s disintegrated with every VAR decision. Steph Houghton opened the scoring from an indirect free-kick after keeper Annette Ngo Ndom had misguidedly picked up a back-pass. Ellen White then doubled the advantage with a trademark finish running in behind the defence. Left back, Alex Greenwood, completed the scoring in the second half, arriving on the penalty spot to meet Toni Duggan’s corner and half volleying it past the keeper.

England Head Coach Phil Neville made three changes to the team that faced Japan, bringing back Greenwood, Fran Kirby and Nikita Parris to get England’s attack firing more efficiently. Cameroon boss Alain Djeumfa stuck with the side that had beaten New Zealand at the death to qualify.

The tone was set early. The Indomitable Lionesses were fired up. Nikita Parris received an elbow in the face from Yvonne Leuko before the first five minutes were complete.

England settled into the game at a pedestrian pace, possibly looking to conserve some energy in the 28 degree heat. They took ten minutes to engineer a half chance with Ndom getting down well to gather at her near post following good work from Parris and Lucy Bronze.

England’s opener was part-gifted to them.   Augustine Ejangue intercepted a cross in the penalty box, cushioning the ball back to her keeper. Ndom, for reasons known only to her, bent down and grabbed it rather than clear away. Duggan stood over the subsequent indirect free kick with Houghton poised to strike and the England captain found a ball’s width of available space just inside the keeper’s left hand upright.

Both teams then struggled to find any attacking fluidity. Cameroon were content to contain rather than press. England only occasionally mustered the tempo needed to make their passing game effective.  Duggan had the best effort, chipping wide after Bronze, Kirby, Parris and White worked the ball rapidly from right to left.

Gaëlle Enganamouit had Cameroon’s best effort of the first half launching an indirect free-kick into space from 30-yards indirect free kick.

Then, four minutes into stoppage time all hell broke loose. Bronze danced through the Cameroon midfield, got a kind bounce off a defender and played White in behind. The Manchester City striker made no mistake curling the same sweet, left-footed finish into the net that had done for both Scotland and Japan. The assistant referee flagged – offside. VAR begged to differ. A brief check, and the goal was correctly given. Parris had strayed but wasn’t active. White’s run was perfectly timed.

Cue pandemonium on and off the pitch with the referee subject to a very robust assessment of her overturned decision by the Cameroon players. Four minutes of additional time became eight and the England team looked on bemused until the match restarted.

If Cameroon were fired up for the first period, they came out like a team possessed in the second, scoring within two minutes. Or so they thought. Karen Bardsley’s weak clearance was picked off in midfield, Gabrielle Onguéné made for the by-line and cut back to Ajara Nchout who pinged a fine finish into the roof of the net. You know what’s coming… a VAR check revealed that Onguéné was barely, BARELY offside – like the back of her heel – there was a strong case for giving the attacker the benefit of the doubt here, but VAR doesn’t do doubt and the decision was carried.

More remonstrations on and off the pitch with Nchout looking inconsolable and her teammates now reportedly refusing to carry on playing. More delays with the match officials unable to get control of events as they were unfolding and unwilling to show cards; even Phil Neville headed over to Djeuma to provide a sympathetic pat on the shoulder for a very marginal decision. Although that sympathy wouldn’t last.

Now in a state of full-on rage the Indomitable Lionesses had their best spell of the match. They nearly scored straight from the restart. Greenwood’s back pass was seized on by substitute Alexandra Takounda but she was unable to beat the onrushing Bardsley. A minute later Greenwood returned the favour, clearing the ball after Takounda beat Bardsley to the ball and was just inches from prodding into an empty net.

England dealt the sucker punch in the 58th minute. Duggan supplied a low, driven corner from the left to the penalty spot and Greenwood caught it cleanly on the half volley giving Ndom no chance. England, who seemed to be reeling just moments earlier, now knew game management was key to wrapping up the tie. 

They pushed for another. White lobbed Ndom following a quick break involving Kirby, Duggan and Scott, but the ball sailed over the bar. The keeper then dropped Scott’s cross from the right, but substitute Jodie Taylor, Kirby and Duggan were crowded out before the finishing touch could be applied.

Kirby and Parris were now enjoying themselves and created another opportunity for Taylor on the edge of the box – she uncharacteristically had a rush of blood and blasted high and wide. Another VAR check somehow deemed that Sonkeng had not fouled Kirby in the build-up even though she clearly had; a ‘diplomatic’ decision perhaps, given the score line and the fractious nature of the game.

Then Taylor took her shot at lobbing the keeper after good work from Duggan. The Reign FC striker was on target, but Estelle Johnson cleared off the line.

England ran the clock down but were required to withstand seven minutes of stoppage time (to go with the eight accrued in the first half). Takounda went down in the box after running into an England defender, but no VAR referral was forthcoming.

She responded two minutes later by stamping on Houghton out on the left-hand touchline while simultaneously shoving her into Djeuma stood pitch-side. It was an extremely poor challenge; one borne of bad temper and not bad timing. Curiously VAR judged it only worthy of a yellow card – much to Phil Neville’s disgust.

More curiously however was captain Onguéné screaming firstly at Houghton, still prone on the floor, then the referee and then Lucy Bronze. It was about as undignified an exit as could be expected and a real shame for a team with some talented individuals that have given all their opponents a tough game and gone beyond pre-tournament expectations.

“It didn’t feel like football. I know we get these briefs about coming on TV and saying it was good game, but that wasn’t a last-sixteen tie in terms of behaviour from footballers. I didn’t enjoy it; the players didn’t enjoy it. My players kept their concentration, but those images are going out worldwide and young girls are seeing that behaviour and it’s not right.”

Phil Neville, England Head Coach

For England, they head to Le Havre next to face a tricky quarter final match up with Norway. Whatever Phil Neville’s squad have shown up to this point, they are going to need to show more, particularly on the ball. They’ve provided flashes of what they can do and no one can fault how clinical the strikers have been. But their propensity for losing momentum, switching off and getting sloppy in possession will not wash with a resilient Norwegian side that will work ferociously hard, press relentlessly and punish errors in and around England’s penalty box.

Martin Sjögren’s side exchanged blows with France in the group stages and were extremely unlucky not to come out of that match with something. Their central defenders play in England and will know the Lionesses well and, in Guro Reiten, Caroline Graham Hansen and Isabell Herlovsen, they have attacking players who can cause plenty of problems.    

It should be a cracker.

Player of the match: Lucy Bronze, England (Was still able to make an attacking impact even though she was marking Cameroon’s best player)

RO16: FRANCE 2-1 BRAZIL (a.e.t.)

Amandine Henry wins it in extra time against Brazil

Superior fitness told in Le Havre with tournament hosts France edging out Brazil in extra time. Valérie Gauvin thought she’d opened the scoring midway through the first half, but VAR chalked it off for a handball. The French striker got the reward her efforts deserved seven minutes after the break, stabbing in Kadidiatou Diani’s cross. VAR was used to confirm that Thaisa had lawfully equalised for the Brazilians on 63 minutes after Debinha got in behind the French backline. Both sides had chances to win the match within 90 minutes, but it was French Captain Fantastic, Amandine Henry, who broke the deadlock in the second period of extra time to put Les Bleues on course for a quarter final with the USA or Spain.

Veteran Formiga returned to the Brazilian line up following suspension, replacing Andressinha. Head Coach Vadão had indicated ahead of the match that superstar playmaker Marta would be available and fit enough to go the distance. The tournament’s record goal scorer may well have played her last match at a World Cup, but she fully contributed to a superb round of sixteen contest that had both fans and neutrals on the edge of their seats.

It started out as a slow burner with a good quality of football from both teams, but chances limited. The heat turned up on 23 minutes when Diani twisted away from Tamires down the right wing, cut to the by-line and hung up a cross that Gauvin got to before Barbara in the Brazil goal. Both players were injured in the contest and VAR soon revealed that Gauvin’s hand and shoulder played the ball.

The same combination worked to greater effect in the 52nd minute. Diani powered her way down the right again and hit the perfect ball between defence and keeper which Gauvin slid in to convert.

Any thoughts the home fans had of an easier ride, now they were in front, dissipated three minutes later when Bouhaddi had to be at her very best to tip Cristiane’s header on to the cross bar.  And the Brazilians would level it up just after the hour mark. Debinha, always lively down the left, got in behind the French back four. Her cross, intended for Cristiane, was half cleared by Wendie Renard, but it broke to Thaisa and she drove the ball past Bouhaddi.

The match got more and more stretched and the two sides exchanged opportunities: Eugénie Le Sommer failed to get the right contact on her header from close range. Then Debinha got the better of Mbock Bathy on the edge of the box but found Bouhaddi well positioned at her near post.

With four minutes to go, Brazil silenced the stadium when they thought they’d won it. Tamires found herself in on goal, finished emphatically but was promptly ruled offside. No VAR required this time; three yellow shirts were all the wrong side of the defence. Substitute Beatriz then sliced over in stoppage time after Debinha picked Torrent’s pocket – the French defender looking completely shattered by this point.

The Brazilians had made a fist of the ninety minutes against one of the tournament favourites, but there was always a concern that their ageing first eleven might not have the legs for extra time, and that the bench would lack the depth and experience to maintain their standards. Cristiane compounded this challenge by attempting a grossly overambitious shot from the halfway line that completely failed to trouble Bouhaddi but ended the 34-year old’s night with what looked like a thigh strain.

Geyse was the replacement and immediately forced a save from Bouhaddi, who was quick off her line to deny the substitute after Debinha’s delicious chip played the striker in on goal.

France weren’t letting up either. Henry headed Gaëtane Thiney’s corner back across the goal but Mbock Bathy couldn’t apply the final touch. Diani then headed Majri’s cross straight at Barbara.

With Marta now tiring significantly and dropping deeper, Brazil’s one remaining spark Debinha nearly scored at the end of the first period of extra time charging in behind the defence, beating Bouhaddi, but finding Mbock Bathy perfectly positioned to clear off the line. The South Americans wouldn’t get another opportunity.

With 107 minutes on the clock, France won a free-kick out on the right flank. Majri swung it into the box left footed and Henry escaped the clutches of Beatriz to steer her low volley past Barbara.

Out on their feet Brazil just couldn’t penetrate beyond the French midfield, so Corinne Diacre’s side played out the final few minutes comfortably to ensure they head back to Paris for a Friday night showdown with either dark horses Spain or the highly touted USA.

Player of the match: Kadidiatou Diani, France (Her best performance at this World Cup – everything you want from Diani: pace, power, strength, direct running)

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