Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

England got back to winning ways in the Women’s Nations League with a dominant performance in a 1-0 win over Belgium on Friday night.

The Lionesses made a strong start at Leicester’s King Power Stadium and took the lead after 13 minutes when Lauren Hemp pounced after Millie Bright’s header from a corner had cannoned off the inside of the right-hand post.

Sarina Wiegman’s side continued to control possession throughout and mustered 19 shots, but while they held off the visitors – who grew in confidence after initially sitting back – they could not find a second to put the game beyond doubt.

The game saw the long-awaited return of Fran Kirby, who played the final half-hour to earn her 66th England cap more than 13 months after the last.

A second victory in three games in Group A1 lifts England back up to second, level on points with, but with an inferior goal difference to the Netherlands, who beat Scotland 4-0 in Nijmegen.

England player ratings

England: Earps (7), Bronze (6), Bright (7), Greenwood (7), Charles (7), Stanway (7), Walsh (7), Toone (6), Kelly (6), Russo (6), Hemp (8).

Subs: Daly (6), Kirby (6), Park (n/a)

Player of the match: Lauren Hemp

How the Lionesses got back on track

England had beaten Scotland and lost to the Netherlands in September, with an understandable hangover following the heart-breaking World Cup final defeat to Spain the month prior hanging over them. With Team GB able to qualify for next year’s Olympics if the Lionesses reach the final, bouncing back at the King Power was imperative.

Sarina Wiegman’s side understood their assignment. With Belgium happy to sit back and invite pressure, the hosts made such a strong stand and, inside three minutes, Niamh Charles had shot just over, with an Ella Toone header bouncing just past the post.

Image:
Fran Kirby won her 66th England cap more than 13 months after her last at the King Power

Before the 15-minute mark, they took the lead their intense pressing deserved. Bright – often playing so high it looked as though she was part of the midfield – headed a corner onto the woodwork, with Hemp on hand to lash in the follow-up and delight the sell-out crowd.

Toone, Alex Greenwood and Alessia Russo had chances to extend England’s lead before the break, but Belgium fired several warning shots to show they were not to be counted out. Justine Vanhaevermaet’s powerful header forced Mary Earps into a good double save, while Bright was given a run for her money by Tessa Wullaert on a number of occasions.

Fourteen shots had been taken by the hosts with an hour gone, but without a second goal, Wiegman introduced Rachel Daly and Kirby to try and inject energy and add comfort going into the closing stages.

Team news

Sarina Wiegman made three changes from England’s 2-1 defeat to the Netherlands last month.
Niamh Charles, Keira Walsh and Chloe Kelly were in from the start, replacing Jess Carter, Katie Zelem and Rachel Daly. Fran Kirby – whose last England cap came 13 months prior – was named on the bench.
For Belgium, Sari Kees and Jassina Blom made way for Janice Cayman and Jody Vangheluwe.

It was Hemp who came closest to doubling the lead when she beat Yana Daniels and moved one-on-one with Nicky Evrard, but her shot let her down, with her effort from an angle straight at the Belgian stopper.

There was certainly an air of anxiety around the ground as the minutes ticked down, but England held on for an important, if narrow, win that keeps their hopes of winning the group very much intact.

Wiegman happy but had hoped for more goals

England boss Sarina Wiegman speaking to ITV:

“We’re very happy with the win, especially after the last game we lost. We played with lots of energy, really wanted to dominate the game and that’s what we did. We hoped to score more goals than we did tonight because then it becomes a little easier as we could see their counter-attacks were sometimes very dangerous. Overall, I’m very happy with our performance.

“We play to win and these sorts of games are really tight, so we’re not going to sub because we want to sub. We start with the team we think we are going to win with and we sub if we think we’re going to need more energy or something different.

“We started the game really well with a lot of pace and became dangerous straight away, then it dropped a little bit and, at first, they didn’t step in with the centre-backs; later on in the first half, they did and then we needed more runs behind. That’s exactly what we did after the break, then our tempo dropped, they became dangerous and we picked it up again. It’s just a lot easier when we score, but how we played, I was pleased with that.”

What’s next?

The Lionesses’ Nations League double-header concludes with a trip to face Belgium again at the Den Dreef Stadion in Leuven at 7.30pm on Tuesday October 31.

They will then face the Netherlands at Wembley on Friday December 1, before travelling to Hampden Park to face Scotland on Tuesday December 5.

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