The protests took the gloss off the England win, its second biggest at the finals stage, with angry manager Phil Neville claiming they had damaged the image of women’s football in front of a big global audience. ‘That was not football,” he said.
Host France joined them in the last eight later Sunday with a 2-1 extra time win over Brazil in Le Havre.
England’s winning advantage may have been comfortable enough, but the match in the Stade du Hainaut exploded in controversy just before halftime as Ellen White slotted home England’s second goal and her fourth of the tournament.
A flag was up for offside but after consulting VAR, which showed White was onside, referee Qin Liang awarded the goal.
It enraged Cameroon’s players, who clustered around her and refused to restart the match for several minutes, persuaded to carry on by coach Alain Djeumfa, himself openly unhappy with the decision.
The protests continued in the tunnel at halftime, with the Cameroon team emerging on to the pitch early for the restart, forming an intense huddle in the middle of the pitch.
Their anger only increased soon after the break when Ajara Nchout took advantage of slack England defending to pull one back with a smart finish from a left-wing cross, only to see it ruled out by VAR for a marginal offside decision.
Goalscorer Nchout was left in floods of tears, comforted by Djeumfa and teammates, with another long delay before the match was restarted.
Clearly unsettled, England had another let-off shortly after as a poor back pass from Alex Greenwood allowed in substitute Alexandra Takounda Engolo, but goalkeeper Karen Bardsley saved her effort.
However, the Lionesses regained composure and from a well-worked corner Toni Duggan picked out Greenwood who fired home on 58 minutes.
England had an unassailable lead with the third, but might have added to its tally, the referee opting not award a penalty after coming to review a possible foul on Fran Kirby in the box by Ysis Sonkeng, thereby avoiding the further wrath of the Cameroon players
There was still time for one more unsavory incident as England captain Steph Houghton was fouled by Alexandra Takounda Engolo, the hefty challenge earning a yellow card, which might have been a red, after a further consultation with VAR.
Houghton had put England ahead in the 14th minute after Cameroon was punished for a backpass, after Augustine Ejangue intercepted White’s cross and goalkeeper Annette Ngo Ndom picked the ball up.
That award set the scene for the further protests, with Cameroon players clearly unhappy, particularly after Duggan rolled it back to Houghton to finish smartly.
Neville pulled no punches at the final whistle, condemning the Cameroon players for their “unacceptable” behavior and claiming the Chinese referee had made the correct decisions over the award of the goals.
“I can’t stand here and say that is fantastic that we are into the quarterfinals of a World Cup, because this is going out all over the world and young girls are seeing this and can be influenced by it, there’s a bigger picture here,” he told BBC Sport.
“I had no sympathy for Cameroon, the rules are the rules.
“Ellen White was onside, their goal was offside and I think in the end the referee has taken pity on them because we should have had a penalty and it should have been a sending off (for the challenge on Houghton).
“The behavior was wrong because this is the image of women’s football we are talking about.”
In his post-match press conference, Djeumfa defended his players, claiming their sense of ‘injustice” stemmed from the award of the 14th minute free kick which led to England’s opener.
“Tonight the referee got a lot of things wrong. Watch the match and you will see her mistakes,” he said.
“The players never refused to play. They were very professional. We played fair,” he claimed.
Djeumfa added: “We came back to 2-1 and again the goal was disallowed by the VAR. I think if that goal had stood we would have had a different outcome.”
France edges Brazil
France owed its victory over Brazil to a dramatic late winner from midfielder Amandine Henry as penalties loomed.
Henry struck deep into the second period, flicking the ball home cleverly after a free kick to earn her side a quarterfinal against either the reigning champion US or Spain in Paris Friday.
The goal came moments after a brilliant block by Griedge Mbock Bathy had denied Brazil’s Debinha what looked a certain goal.
After the controversies of the earlier match, this was a high-quality affair although VAR was the main talking point of the first half as Valerie Gauvin had a goal for the home side chalked off after review.
Gauvin did not have to wait long to put her side ahead, converting a low ball from Kadidiatou Diani in the 53rd minute, her seventh goal in nine internationals.
Brazil sprung to life in search of an equalizer and veteran striker Cristiane saw her headed effort pushed on to the crossbar by French goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi.
The leveler came in the 64th with Thaisa on target after a VAR check had revealed Debinha, who put in the cross for the goal, was not offside.
France pressed hard for the winner in extra time and was rewarded when Lyon’s Henry met Amel Majri’s free-kick with a sliding volley into the bottom corner in the 107th minute, leaving Marta’s Brazil exiting at the last 16 stage for the second successive World Cup.
“I saw Amel (take the free-kick), I slid, I had a little luck,” the French captain told Canal+.
“After, I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t even have the strength to get up… I hoped VAR wasn’t going to take it back,” she added.