The 2019 Women’s World Cup, Group E: Cameroon’s Day
Netherland, Canada, Cameroon, New Zealand
Ajara Nchout is quite the traveller. At twenty-six years of age her club career has already taken her to Russia, the USA, Sweden and Norway. Now, upon landing in France for the Women’s World Cup finals, her career has hit a new pinnacle. This afternoon she scored both goals as Cameroon defeated New Zealand by two goals to one to qualify for the second round of the competition for the second time in a row, and the timing and manner in which she did it were sensational. Who said the group stages at the Women’s World Cup were a cakewalk?
It was a surprisingly low key first half in Montpellier. It took ten minutes for either team to settle and Cameroon came out on top in terms of possession, with New Zealand really struggling to find any form of coherence. Half-time came with little of consequence having passed. A match which both teams needed to win on order to stay in the tournament seemed to be drifting towards a lethargic draw, a characteristic which carried over into the opening minutes of the second half, as well.
Twelve minutes in, though, Nchout had her first moment of brilliance, collecting a crossfield ball with her back to goal, slipping away from her marker like Houdini stepping out of a straitjacket, and pacing the ball calmly across the New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler to give Cameroon the lead. Seven minutes later, Nayler pulled off an extraordinary triple save to prevent Cameroon from starting to disappear on the horizon, and this seemed to have some degree of consequence with just under a quarter of an hour to play, when Aurelle Awona swung her leg at a cross from the right and shanked it straight past her own goalkeeper for the sixth own goal of the tournament.
Own goals is now the leading goalscorer in this tournament, and everyone loves an own goal. It was, however, a disaster for Cameroon and New Zealand looked the more likely to score over the course of the last ten minutes before it was confirmed that there would be five minutes of stoppage-time at the end of the match. With both teams needing to score, the pace became frantic as stoppage-time played out, but as the clock ticked towards time, Onguene flicked a header into Nchout’s path. She seemed to be running down a cul-de-sac on the left hand side of the New Zealand penalty area, turned a defender inside out, and curled the ball around Nayler and into the corner of the goal to send Cameroon through. It was a magnificent goal, truly worthy of the stage upon which the match was being played. Cameroon now play either England or France in the next round.
With the Netherlands and Canada having already qualified for the next round, all there was to be decided from their meeting in Reims was who finished atop the group. It took less than two minutes for the VAR to insert its beak into proceedings. Canada’s Janine Beckie was fouled on the edge of the penalty area by Desiree Van Lunteren and it took a full three minutes following the original award of a penalty kick before the decision was rescinded and a free-kick just outside the penalty area was given instead. Still, though, it was a brighter start than in Montpellier and there were further highlights when Huitema had a goal disallowed for offside, a goalmouth scramble played out like the bonus game on a pinball machine, and Miedema hit the post for the Netherlands. Half-time arrived goalless, but with the Dutch having been mostly on top.
Two goals in six minutes further shook the game awake. After fifty-five minutes, Anouk Dekker bounced a cross in off her shoulder to give the Netherlands the lead, whilst six minutes later Christine Sinclair, scoring the 182nd goal of her international career and in her fifth World Cup finals by crashing the ball into the roof of the Dutch goal from a narrow angle. This parity, however, didn’t last for that long. With fifteen minutes to play a low ball across the edge of the New Zealand six yard area was stabbed over the line by Lineth Beerensteyn of Bayern Munich to send the Netherlands back to the top of the group. They now play Japan in the next round, whilst Canada will play the winner of this evening’s match between the United States of America and Sweden.
The Netherlands continue to impress, with a possible quarter-final against Germany to look forward to should both teams get through the next round. This afternoon, however, belonged to Cameroon. Ajara Nchout’s two moments of brilliance, the second of which came as the ten second countdown towards their elimination from the competition, was another moment of high drama in a final round of matches which is providing a mixture of tension, drama and controversy. They would start a match against either England or France as underdogs, but they can likely give an England team that has been firing on a little short of all cylinders so far despite having won all three group matches, whilst France, for all the plaudits they’ve been showered with, haven’t really impressed that much since half-time in their opening match against South Korea. The pressure’s all on the hosts, and they scored two wonderful goals to win their final group match. Cameroon can dream, can’t they?