After an eventful match of football, England beat Cameroon 3-0.
The match saw plenty of VAR drama but eventually the Lionesses found their way to victory. What did we learn?
1. Lucy Bronze is pure gold
A game that was full of drama wasn’t really full of quality. England’s football was controlled but lacking in dynamism, structure and invention. Meanwhile, Cameroon’s heroic defending was let down by poor finishing and some shocking moments of ill-discipline.
But through the mire, a hero rose. And that hero was Lucy Bronze. The Berwick-upon-Tweed Dani Alves who currently plays for Lyon, where she just won back-to-back league and Champions League doubles. She is a genuine phenomenon and it was no surprise that she was the one to blow the game open with the one moment of genuine quality late in the first half.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 23, 2019
Her deep cross had been headed clear but she raced into the middle of the pitch to recover the ball. Then despite being a right-back she continued to carry the ball in, drawing all eyes towards her and allowing her team-mates to start moving. Seeing Ellen White in space and Augustin Ejangue playing her onside, Bronze flicked a gorgeous pass with the outside of her foot splitting the Cameroon defence like an atom to find White, who finished confidently.
It was a shining light in the darkness and we give thanks to Bronze who continues to be England’s most talented, tenacious and titanic presence in attack and defence. Her match against Caroline Graham Hansen in the quarter-final should be glorious!
2. The glory of the indirect free-kick
There was almost 15 minutes gone in a fairly lifeless game when Fran Kirby drove through the middle of the pitch and slipped White in down the right. The Birmingham City forward whipped in a low cross hard for Toni Duggan. The Barcelona striker was headed for a tap-in but Ejangue stepped in to stop it.
But Ejangue took a poor touch and the ball bobbled towards Annette Ndom in goal. But instead of then going to clear the ball, Ejangue left it for her goalie, who then picked the ball up. That turned the whole affair into a backpass which meant that we were about to be treated to one of football’s great spectacles: an indirect free-kick inside the box.
England took it brilliantly, with Duggan slipping it sideways for Steph Houghton to laser into the far post. The beauty of the indirect free-kick is that it resembles a Baroque crowd scene come to life. What drew the eye here? The Cameroon defenders repeatedly rushing off the line? The fear in their eyes? The curious spacing of England players, hinting at an elaborate attack that never came? Or perhaps it was the decision of Cameroon captain Gabrielle Onguene to step off the post, thus making the whole thing possible? There was just so much to admire and appreciate!
3. Neville’s rhetoric leaves England hollow
England manager Phil Neville certainly talks a good game. “The style is non-negotiable however far we go,” Neville said. Of course anyone who has watched England so far at the tournament would be justified in asking “what style?”
England don’t play good cohesive football. They haven’t all tournament, really. They have a select few excellent players that sort of work on autopilot to keep the team playing well. Jill Scott runs midfield and keeps the game ticking over, Kirby, Nikita Parris and Duggan add excitement in the final third and Bronze is just amazing.
But there’s no real patterns of play or anything like that. Just a “give it to the good player and pray” kind of thing going on. The way Neville speaks you’d think England were some kind of maverick side run by a genius like Marcelo Bielsa who for all his tactical sharpness just cannot get his side to consistently win games, but no, England are an outstandingly talented side who play with all the adventure and excitement of a librarian. England will come up short against better sides than those they’ve faced.
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4. The cruelty of precision offside
One of VAR’s factual applications is in the area of offside. With video replays and a digital line run across the pitch we are now able to determine whether or not a player is genuinely offside or not. It’s clean and crisp and easy, and it’s also the most cruel and perhaps needless application of technology and the correct decision.
Today we saw two instances of VAR being used to judge offside. In the first, for England’s second goal, it was clear that White was onside when Bronze passed the ball to her and VAR adjudged that to be the case. That was fine.
The second instance saw Cameroon pull a goal back just minutes into the second half when the ball broke to Onguene on the left and she crossed for Ajara Nchout to finish coolly. VAR pulled this back and disallowed it because Onguene was fractionally offside when the ball began heading her way. This was a correct decision, but was it right?
4 – Ellen White has scored four goals for England at the 2019 Women's World Cup; the joint-most by an England player in a single tournament in the competition (also Kelly Smith with four in 2007). Fantastic. pic.twitter.com/GkAqyo0pYA
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 23, 2019
The whole point of the offside rule is to prevent ‘goalhanging’ and players gaining an unfair advantage by literally just standing behind a defence and waiting for the ball to come to them. Whilst it is correct that Onguene was offside, the margin was so, so thin that she gained no advantage. A few inches further back and she would have still raced down the left and crossed for Nchout.
Cameroon were incensed by the decision, and whilst they had no legal reason to be upset they definitely had a moral one because precision offside rulings that side with the defending team violate the spirit of the game because they don’t give the advantage to the attacking players. VAR has shown us an instance in football where the correct decision is emphatically not the right one.
5. Cameroon vs. VAR
Cameroon were lucky to make the knockout rounds and were always going to struggle against a side like England who are much more experienced and better funded than they are. The Indomitable Lionesses battled well against the Lionesses and definitely defended valiantly, but they had such a strange relationship with referee Qin Liang and Bastian Dankert’s VAR team.
On the one hand was the cruelty of their disallowed goal where a precision offside decision went against them. But honestly, every other call that went against them was fair and correct (whereas their disallowed goal was just correct). That they piled up did make it seem like Fifa were on a mission to eliminate Cameroon, but looking at it objectively Cameroon even got the benefit of some lenient refereeing.
There were some hefty challenges being put in by Cameroon players all game long, and yet only one yellow card was issued and even that was an incorrect decision because Yvonne Leuko absolutely nailed Parris with a brutal elbow four minutes into the game. Leuko could have had no complaints if she was sent off, but she survived to play 90 minutes.
Similarly right at the end of the game Houghton and Alexandra Takounda were racing for a 50/50 and Takounda dove at Houghton with a nasty stamp on her ankle and foot, sending the England captain crumpling into a heap on the sideline. In the end the referee took pity on Cameroon and only booked her, but that could have been a red card too and Onguene’s verbal tirade at basically everyone was probably worth a card too. It was a strange, sad end to an open game.