Spitting, strops, sloppiness and elbow strikes. England survived all of these on Sunday to beat Cameroon 3-0 and reach the quarter-finals of the Women’s World Cup.
In a round of 16 match which was low on quality but high on controversy, the Lionesses scored twice in the first half and once just before the hour mark to set up a last-eight meeting with Norway.
An indirect free-kick from captain Steph Houghton and a fourth goal of the tournament for Ellen White, awarded after a review, put England in command at the break.
Alex Greenwood’s smart strike was enough to see off a Cameroon team who vociferously protested the outcome of two VAR interventions either side of half-time.
Cameroon could have been reduced to 10 players inside the opening 10 minutes. Yvonne Leuko caught England’s Nikita Parris with an elbow but the referee only deemed it worthy of a yellow card.
Moments later, England took the lead in unusual fashion. Cameroon defender Augustine Ejangue directed a cross back to goalkeeper Annette Ngo Ndom, who picked up the ball.
It was adjudged to be a back-pass, meaning England were awarded an indirect free-kick on the edge of the six-yard box.
During the break in play, Toni Duggan complained to the referee that Ejangue had spat on her following the award of the free-kick. Replays confirmed Duggan had indeed been spat on, although it was unclear whether it was intentional or just an unpleasant accident.
With what seemed like the entire Cameroon team lined up on the goal line, England captain Steph Houghton found the bottom corner from Duggan’s lay off to open the scoring after 12 minutes.
Cameroon’s players cut frustrated figures and struggled to have any impact on the game, launching occasional attacks when England surrendered possession.
Phil Neville’s team, for their part, were too often sloppy on the ball during an uninspiring first half.
But England did manage to find a second goal, in the final moments before the interval, thanks to a rare moment of class in a scrappy encounter.
Lucy Bronze burst forward, feeding a neat ball through to Ellen White who finished calmly beyond Ngo Ndom.
But the assistant referee’s flag was raised and the goal initially ruled out for offside. White’s fourth goal of tournament was confirmed, however, following a VAR review.
It sparked a bizarre series of events. Cameroon’s players, having seen a replay of the goal on the big screen inside the stadium, felt aggrieved at the decision and initially appeared to refuse to restart the game.
The situation descended into chaos moments into the second half. Cameroon thought they had found a way back into the game in the 48th minute, when Ajara Nchout hammered a first-time finish into the roof of the net from Gabrielle Onguene’s cross.
But another VAR review ruled Onguene was marginally offside before passing to Nchout, cueing mass consternation from the Cameroon players and coaching staff.
The referee was eventually able to restart the game, albeit with some of the Cameroon players - most notably Nchout - visibly distressed.
Cameroon should have found the back of the net again immediately. Greenwood’s awful back pass put Alexandra Takounda Engolo through on goal but the substitute was unable to beat Bardsley with her first touch since coming onto the pitch.
It wasn’t long before Greenwood made a positive impact at the other end to seal England’s win. A neat set-piece routine in the 58th minute saw the Manchester United player sweep home Duggan’s driven corner.
It was England’s biggest ever winning margin in a Women’s World Cup knockout tie, although Neville knows his team will have to perform far better if they are to entertain any thoughts of going all the way in the competition.