EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) Cameroon knows its chances of winning the Women’s World Cup are slim. The team has already made history by getting to the knockout stage.
So when Cameroon coach Enow Ngachu says he’s just happy to be here, he means it.
Cameroon is ranked No. 53 in the world and is the lowest ranked of the 16 teams that advanced to the elimination round. The Lionesses will face No. 16 China at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday.
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”Everything is possible in football,” Ngachu said on the eve of the match. ”The ball is round. There is going to be 11 against 11. The best team is going to win – but I hope it will be Cameroon. ”
Added defender Christine Manie: ”We’re making history, we’re very happy to be here. And we can dream about the quarterfinal. Why not?”
Cameroon, runner-up at the 2014 African championship, is making its first-ever appearance in the World Cup. The Lionesses are just the second African team to advance to the knockout stage following Nigeria in 1999.
In the group stage, Cameroon defeated Ecuador 6-0 before falling to Japan 2-1. But they pulled off a hard-fought 2-1 victory over No. 19 Switzerland in the group finale in Edmonton, sending their sizeable following of fans into a frenzy.
Afterward, forward Ajara Nchout called the crowd Cameroon’s 12th man.
The Lionesses face a Chinese team that will be without its head coach, Hao Wei, because of his ejection from China’s final group-stage match. Hao got entangled with a New Zealand player and was sent off.
The team fell to host Canada in its group-stage opener on Christine Sinclair’s penalty kick in second-half stoppage time. China beat the Netherlands before a 2-all draw with New Zealand.
China has played in the World Cup six times, but missed out four years ago in Germany. The Steel Roses have never won a title, but they famously made the final in 1999, only to be defeated by the United States on penalty kicks at the Rose Bowl.
CONTROVERSY: China’s draw with New Zealand to wrap up the group stage was marred by controversy.
Hao was sent off the field after the ref ruled he had interfered with New Zealand’s Ria Percival on the sideline as she attempted to throw in the ball. The replay was inconclusive whether Hao was stumbling to get out of the way after the ball bounced toward him on the sideline. But interfering with a player in any way is not allowed.
Afterward, New Zealand coach Tony Readings refused to shake Hao’s hand. Readings’ team had needed the victory to move on.
Hao said that on Saturday, he is allowed to ride the bus with the team to Commonwealth Stadium, but then he must leave them.
But he is confident in the game plan.
”The Cameroon team did exceptionally well in its first three games,” Hao said through an interpreter. ”After our analysis, we found they have a big loophole in their defense. I think we can capitalize on this.”
MIGHTY GAELLE: The Lioness to watch is Gaelle Enganamouit, who wins the hair game at the Women’s World Cup with her striking blonde hairdo. The 23-year-old is a dynamic playmaker who scored a hat trick in the victory over Ecuador in the group stage.
Enganamouit plays professionally in Sweden.
CHINA’S PLAYER TO WATCH: Wang Lisi leads the Chinese with two goals in the tournament, including a stoppage-time stunner that pulled the team to victory over the Dutch.
CAMEROON ISSUES: There have long been allegations of corruption within Cameroon’s governing body for soccer, apart from the scandal that now envelops FIFA.
The women’s team reportedly threatened to not play in its opener over a disagreement about what the players would be paid. The men’s team had a similar disagreement before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Last year, a German magazine outlined suspicions surrounding a group-stage loss to Croatia at the men’s World Cup.
In 2013, FIFA suspended Cameroon after the re-election of its soccer federation president, who had been arrested for alleged financial crimes.