England had struggled to find form throughout the opening two matches of the inaugural UEFA Women’s Nations League, narrowly defeating Scotland at the Stadium of Light before falling to a loss against the Netherlands at Utrecht’s Stadion Galgenwaard.
The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup finalists would be seeking to return to winning ways at Leicester City’s sold-out King Power Stadium on Friday, with the city in pensive mood on the five-year anniversary of the helicopter crash that tragically claimed the lives of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Kaveporn Punpare, Izabela Lechowicz, Eric Swaffer and Nusura Suknamai.
ENG: Earps; Charles, Greenwood, Bright, Bronze; Walsh, Stanway; Kelly, Toone, Hemp; Russo
BEL: Evrard; Vangheluwe, Cayman, de Caigny, de Neve, Deloose; Vanhaevermaet, Missipo, Delacauw; Wullaert, Detruyer
The Lionesses enjoyed a bright start at the King Power Stadium, with Alessia Russo finding Lauren Hemp with a fantastic ball in from the right flank – and although the Manchester City star managed to get the better of Janice Cayman, her shot was ultimately blocked by Nicky Evrard.
But Belgium certainly weren’t going to submit themselves to defeat without a fight, and forced Mary Earps into action with less than ten minutes on the clock. Tessa Wullaert’s cross was flicked towards goal by Justine Vanhaevermaet but denied by a fantastic double save from the Manchester United shotstopper.
In what was certainly developing into an end-to-end encounter, it was the Lionesses that drew first blood. Chloe Kelly’s corner from the left was met in the middle of the box by Millie Bright – but as her header struck the far post, Lauren Hemp was on hand to smash home the rebound.Embed from Getty Images
Keen to test Nicky Evrard further and pile on the pressure, Ella Toone and Alex Greenwood both saw shots saved by the Belgian goalkeeper – with Alessia Russo also denied as the half neared its conclusion.
The Lionesses would perhaps be lucky to hold the advantage at the break, with Tessa Wullaert having been a thorn in the side of the English defence. Her pacy runs on both flanks had allowed her to get shots off – with Millie Bright called upon twice to make a crucial intervention.
The second half would prove to be something of a scrappier affair, and while the Lionesses were able to test Nicky Evrard for lengthy spells, Sarina Wiegman’s side lacked the ruthlessness in front of goal to double their advantage.
Standing over a free-kick from 25 yards out or so, Alex Greenwood sought to find that elusive second goal with twenty minutes remaining – and while her strike looked destined to settle in the top corner, the Belgian shotstopper proved her worth once more to maintain her side’s one-goal deficit.
Three points for the Lionesses ensure that they move up to second in Group A1, with Belgium falling from their pre-match pole position to third. England might have been left rueing their missed opportunities though, with the Netherlands top of the group on account of their superior goal difference. Belgium and England will meet again in the return leg on 31 October, with that clash taking place in Leuven at the King Power at Den Dreef Stadium.