Sunday, 23 June 2019

Liang and Cameroon must be reprimanded after farcial women's World Cup scenes

By Alistair Hendrie

By the time Cameroon's Takounda Engolo slammed her studs into the ankle of England's Steph Houghton on Sunday, the underdogs already trailed their women's World Cup second round tie 3-0 and the Indomitable Lionesses had lost their heads. Referee Qin Liang only booked Takounda after consulting VAR, and it spoke volumes that Jonathan Pearce, commentating for the BBC, said Liang was wise not to show a red card simply because it would have enraged the Cameroonians to breaking point. Cameroon had relinquished control. So had Liang.

Questions must be asked of Liang after she allowed Cameroon's players to strop, complain. and make a mockery of the spirit the World Cup should be played in throughout the match. When Liang awarded England their second goal via VAR, her grip on the game crumbled as Ajara Nchout and Gabrielle Onguene berated the referee and initiated a team huddle, delaying the restart by at least three minutes. Liang declined to book any Cameroonian players despite their lack of discipline. 

As the chaos continued, the Chinese official then used VAR to rule out a Cameroon equaliser for offside - a questionable decision in itself. Nchout, who scored the "goal", tearfully stormed to her head coach Alain Djeumfa, crossing her arms in the air, as if pleading for Djeumfa to take the team off the pitch in protest. The dissent was bad enough; the time-wasting was embarrassing to watch. Liang's decision? No booking for Nchout, regardless of another five-minute interlude. 

Moving forwards, how FIFA reacts to Liang's lack of authority and unwillingness to punish players should set a benchmark for standards of officiating. When Switzerland defeated Serbia 2-1 at the World Cup in 2018, referee Felix Brych was sent home after the Serbian FA complained about his performance to FIFA. At least Brych's plight shows FIFA are willing to penalise poor showings.

Still, FIFA would be wise to act tactfully with Liang, take her into a quiet room, fan the flames, but remind her of how players can't be allowed to throw tantrums and protest excessively. She shouldn't be castigated just yet, and dumping her out of the tournament would be an overreaction, but she needs to improve. After all, on Sunday her decision-making, control of the game and communication with players left a lot to be desired. 

Cameroon, too, should face the consequences of their actions. The tie with England descended into a tragic comedy when Nchou broke down and that was before Onguene's unwarranted rant at Liang after Takounda took out Houghton. At times it appeared as if Cameroon were refereeing the contest themselves, such was the extent of their time-wasting and arguing. 

Cameroon, playing in their second consecutive World Cup second round, ought to expect a fine for failing to control their players. With the visibility and popularity of the women's game at an all-time high, Cameroon set a poor example with their unsporting conduct - they disregarded any sense of professionalism and respect. 

In another blight on the World Cup in 2018, FIFA docked the Moroccan FA £50,000 when Morocco striker Nordin Amrabat shouted "VAR is bullshit" at a camera after Spain denied the Atlas Lions with a VAR-assisted leveller. In that case, you'd think Cameroon would earn a similar punishment. Theirs wasn't one instance of dissent either; it was incessant arguing, it was multiple refusals to play on - and this, remember, lasted for most of the match.

FIFA should use this as a chance to do the right thing for the good of the game. The organisation seems to be all for clamping down on inappropriate socks in football, so you'd hope they'd temper inadequate refereeing once more and shut down insolent players while the world is watching.

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