After the chaos and confusion caused by Cameroon, it’s easy to focus on the behaviour that soured England’s football win. But first, amid the madness, it’s important to celebrate the maturity of the Lionesses. They were spat on, scythed down, and caught up in a situation unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and remained professional throughout. The players didn’t hassle the referee, they didn’t react to Cameroon’s anger or protests, and set an example to everyone in the footballing world.
I think everybody sitting in front of a television on Sunday night felt the same way. We cringed and we were embarrassed by Cameroon’s actions. I don’t see any reason why their players acted in that manner or felt they had the right to object to continuing to play. All the VAR decisions were blatantly correct. There was the finest margin in the offside ruling that disallowed Ajara Nchout’s goal, but it was the right call. The referee was just enforcing the rules and their players couldn’t accept that.
A lot of the time when you’re interviewed straight after a game, emotion can take hold but I believe everything Phil Neville said was absolutely correct. He spoke in an abrupt way but that’s what was needed. It wasn’t harsh, it was true, and if nobody had highlighted how bad Cameroon’s demeanour was, it might have been left unsaid. He echoed what everyone was thinking and did a great job, not just for the Lionesses, but to show that that type of behaviour is unacceptable on any football field.
The referee could have tried to use yellow cards or somehow control the behaviour of Cameroon’s players, but this situation was so unique. We’ve never witnessed anything like that. If you were going to start booking players for acting like that, you’d have had to caution their entire team. It was such an anomaly that there’s no way of preparing for it and I’m not sure if we’ll ever see anything like it again, so it’s not a question of ‘how do you stop it?’ I think the referee did everything she could, all things considered.
In a way, the spit on Toni Duggan set the tone for the game. It’s happened to me to before when we played against Brazil. Everybody knows there’s no place for that in football and Toni showed incredible composure to just show the referee, wipe it off and continue focusing on her game.
When I saw the tackle on Steph Houghton, I couldn’t even look at the screen. It was atrocious. It brought back visions of Harry Kane’s injury in the Champions League quarter-final and, after my own ankle injury, I immediately thought the worst. I had to get my sister to tell me what was happening because I was scared for her. But that moment defined Steph as a leader. It’s the 95th minute, the game is won and she’s still showing such incredible desire and endeavour to chase a loose ball in an area where she really doesn’t need to. All we can do is hope that she hasn’t been badly hurt.
Despite the circus, I don’t think the girls will be emotionally drained by the match. The commotion was all coming from one side and nobody was drawn in or reacted. There were so many breaks in play, be it Cameroon’s players protesting or VAR checks, they might actually have felt more rested than usual when they woke up yesterday morning.
Of course, it was a tough match, but we won and, in a way, that experience is the perfect preparation for the harder tests to come. They’re into the quarter-finals, they’ve scored another three fantastic goals, kept a third clean sheet, and from here on in it’s anybody’s tournament to win.
Norway may not provide the same drama, but they are the toughest test England will have faced yet by a distance. Some of the mistakes we made against Cameroon won’t go unpunished in the quarter-finals. So now, England have got to put that bizarre episode behind them and push on at full steam.
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