Cameroon’s suc­cess is a win for African women

Los Angeles Times - - WOMEN’S WORLD CUP - By Kevin Bax­ter kevin.bax­ter@latimes.com

ED­MON­TON, Canada — Cameroon Coach Enow Ngachu said his team’s sur­pris­ing run through group play and into the sec­ond round of the World Cup is hav­ing a pro­found im­pact back home, where op­por­tu­ni­ties for women in sports have re­mained lim­ited by so­ci­etal and cul­tural tra­di­tions.

“Africa is not like the Euro­pean coun­tries. It’s very com­pli­cated in Africa,” Ngachu said Fri­day be­fore his team’s fi­nal train­ing ses­sion for Satur­day’s elim­i­na­tion game with China. “At times they don’t al­low women in football. But with the re­sults we’re hav­ing, just to­day I re­ceived about 50 mes­sages of young girls in­ter­ested to play soc­cer.”

That was ex­actly the kind of mes­sage World Cup or­ga­niz­ers were hop­ing to de­liver when they ex­panded the tour­na­ment field to 24 teams this year, al­low­ing emerg­ing teams such as Cameroon to qual­ify for the first time. But Ngachu’s team is hardly a char­ity case. In the last four years Cameroon made its de­but in the Olympic soc­cer tour­na­ment and fin­ished in the top three at the last two African Cham­pi­onships.

In this tour­na­ment Ngachu said his play­ers have been tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from the 1990 men’s team, which up­set Ar­gentina in its World Cup opener and went on to be­come the first African team to reach the quar­ter­fi­nals, a per­for­mance Cameroon can match with a win over China.

“We said to the play­ers, in 1990 Cameroon suc­ceeded against Ar­gentina in the open­ing game of the World Cup. Why not you?” Ngachu said. “In 1990, Cameroon qual­i­fied for the quar­ter­fi­nals. Why not you?

“So history can re­peat it­self to­mor­row.”

China, mean­while, in re­build­ing af­ter fail­ing to qual­ify for the last World Cup, has just six play­ers who were born be­fore 1990. The team will be at a fur­ther disad­van­tage Satur­day since Coach Hao Wei will be serv­ing a one-game sus­pen­sion af­ter be­ing sent off in the fi­nal min­utes of the last group-play game for interfering with a New Zealand player who was at­tempt­ing a throw in.

The coach can ac­com­pany the team to the sta­dium bus but can’t in­ter­act with his play­ers af­ter that. One re­porter jok­ingly asked the Chi­nese coach whether he had thought about bor­row­ing a tac­tic from Chelsea Coach Jose Mour­inho who, while sus­pended, al­legedly hid in a laun­dry cart that was wheeled into his team’s dress­ing room at half­time.

“I’m not sure about that,” the Chi­nese coach an­swered with a smile. You’ve got a friend

Although the U.S. got through group play un­beaten, it was hardly an easy ride. And some of the big­gest chal- lenges the women faced came off the field, where new de­tails emerged about Hope Solo’s do­mes­tic vi­o­lence case and for­mer coach Pia Sund­hage caused a stir with com­ments crit­i­cal of Solo, Abby Wam­bach and Carli Lloyd.

That could have crushed younger teams. But de­fender Chris­tine Ram­pone, at 39 the old­est player in World Cup history, said the U.S. was uniquely pre­pared to weather those storms.

“We’ve had some­thing spe­cial over the years,” said Ram­pone, one of 13 U.S. play­ers who has spent at least eight years with the na­tional team. “Our team has gone through a lot to­gether. And we get stronger, from mar­riages to death to kids. “We have a spe­cial bond.” Ram­pone said that unity makes the U.S. a dif­fi­cult team to beat.

“We re­al­ize it’s a team sport, and we have each other’s back,” she said. “So we score a lot of goals in pres­sure sit­u­a­tions. And we keep fight­ing be­cause we still have that belief, even at the last sec­ond, that we’re not done and that we’re go­ing to get a goal.”

Hao

Ngachu

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