Goals early and late in the first half from captain Steph Houghton and forward Ellen White put England on their way, before Alex Greenwood swept home a neat third, but the result was barely half the story.
Cameroon looked like they would refuse to play on when White’s disallowed goal was overturned, with Cameroon players frantically pointing to the replays on the big screen, seemingly suggesting Nikita Parris was offside but the winger wasn’t interfering with play.
The game descended further into a farce almost as soon as the game restarted when Ajara Nchout had a goal overturned because captain Gabrielle Onguene was ruled to be a fraction offside before crossing the ball.
Phil Neville made just three changes from the victory against Japan. Alex Greenwood, Nikita Parris and Fran Kirby returning in place of Demi Stokes, Georgia Stanway and Rachel Daly.
Almost 45 minutes before the controversy kicked in, though it like a lifetime, England’s own captain had fired the Lionesses ahead after 15 minutes in what was another controversial decision.
Augustine Ejangue’s mis-controlled touch from a cross was adjudged to be a deliberate back pass when Annette Ngo Ndom picked the ball up, but Houghton picked herself up to smash home an indirect free-kick, opening England’s knockout stages account as she had done four years previous against next opponent’s Norway.
Despite their early lead, England struggled to make their advantage count in hot and humid conditions in Valenciennes, their opponents showing plenty of energy in getting forward but lacked an end product.
It took until the four minutes of added time in the first half for England to double their lead. Lucy Bronze’s dinked ball through the middle found White and it was a familiar sweeping left-footed finish which has become so customary for the striker during the tournament.
The goal was initially ruled out but as replays showed White was onside, Cameroon’s players were furious as they believed Parris, who was standing in an offside position, was enough to get the goal disallowed and it appeared as though they were ready to walk off the pitch before the break.
When the game restarted, more controversy soon followed. Trying to recover from an offside position, captain Onguene crossed for Nchout to fire home emphatically and for a brief few seconds it appeared the Valenciennes crowd was in for a close second half.
But after yet another VAR check, Onguene was adjudged to be marginally offside and referee Liang Qin ruled out the goal, sparking chaotic scenes. Several Cameroon players were visibly in tears on the pitch while others looked like they wanted to walk as England resumed play with a free-kick.
VAR has been the source of plenty of controversy throughout the World Cup so far, but never more so than on what had become an almost farcical evening near the Belgian border.
To their credit, Cameroon kept pushing and looked to react better to the circumstances than Neville’s side. Substitute Alexandra Takounda almost had an instant impact when she pounced on Alex Greenwood’s poor back pass, but fired straight at Karen Bardsley.
Nchout soon fired over from inside the box as England for a short period looked to be crumbling under the bizarre circumstances, but the game was wrapped up with a simple, yet superb, finish from Manchester United captain Alex Greenwood.
Duggan’s corner was whipped in low and Greenwood fired home with one swift flick of her left foot to confirm England’s place in the quarter-finals, where they will now face Norway in Le Havre.
There was another VAR check with just over ten minutes to go when Kirby went down under a challenge, but after Liang Qin reviewed it she decided to stand by her original decision, probably to the relief of most within the ground.
Amidst the chaos, Lucy Staniforth and Leah Williamson were given her major tournament debut for the final ten minutes, the former in place of Jill Scott who with her 18th World Cup appearance overtook Peter Shilton as England’s most-capped player in the event.
Another substitute, this time Jodie Taylor, came close to a fourth when she played through on goal, but defender Estelle Johnson did enough to get back in time and clear the ball away for a corner.
As Cameroon’s players looked despondent on the bench as their tournament came to an end, their fans ironically chanted ‘penalty’ in the stands, there was one last bit of controversy as captain Steph Houghton went down under a heavy challenge from Takounda, but another VAR check yielded just a yellow card.
For England, they return to Le Havre with all eyes on progression to a third consecutive major tournament semi-final, but a tricky Norway side will give Neville plenty to think about after an evening where Cameroon could easily have scored at least one against England's defence.
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