Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

England’s hopes of reaching the Nations League finals – and the 2024 Olympics – were dealt a further blow after a 3-2 defeat to Belgium, with the match overshadowed by a head injury to Alex Greenwood.

It will go down as a famous win for Belgium and another notch for the Red Flames who had already beaten the Netherlands in this Nations League campaign, as well as redemption after a 1-0 defeat to the Lionesses in Leicester on Friday.

Belgium went ahead after nine minutes through a fine Laura De Neve free-kick which was curled around a questionable England wall.

But the game was paused for 13 minutes soon after following a clash of heads between Greenwood and Jassina Blom. After careful medical attention, the England defender was stretchered off, but is conscious and talking as she continues to be monitored.

The Lionesses came roaring back into the tie in their best spell towards the end of the first half. Lucy Bronze (38) flicked home a fine header, before Fran Kirby put England ahead (44) on her first international start in over a year.

Belgium captain Tessa Wullaert (45+6) scored the first of her two goals just before the break to level for the hosts. And grabbed the vital winner from the penalty spot after Georgia Stanway was penalised for handball with five minutes of normal time remaining.

England have now dropped to third place in Nations League Group A1 with six points, one place and point behind Belgium. The Netherlands are two points clear at the top after beating Scotland 1-0.

Fran Kirby scored in the first half after returning to the squad after injury

Speaking to ITV Sport after the game, England manager Sarina Wiegman said: “It was a game where we should’ve been tighter on the ball, the tempo was not great, we did create lots of chances and dominated the game, but at moments we lost the ball – and they are dangerous.

“When you’re sloppy on the ball, they were ready for that. It’s the way they play, they’re not playing a possession game, as soon as they win it they’re gone.

“We have to be tight, especially building, creating. At moments where we don’t expect to lose the ball – we weren’t good enough at keeping it today and it’s a hard lesson for us.”

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England goalkeeper Mary Earps says the squad are ‘bitterly disappointed’ with their performance in the 3-2 loss to Belgium in the Women’s Nations League.

Earps: England defeat is on us

England goalkeeper Mary Earps on Sky Sports News:

“It’s bitterly disappointing, of course. It’s on us, we have to be better than we were tonight.

“Morale’s pretty low in the changing room, there’s not much else to say than that. It’s not a good result, not a particularly good performance.

“Now we’ve got a job on our hands in the remaining games. I’m not worried [about Olympic qualification], it makes it a little bit more difficult but the reality is we need to win, and there’s maybe a few eventualities in terms of how many we need to score.

“We set out to win every game anyway, but we’ll have to be more on it than we were tonight.”

How England were beaten in Leuven

Belgium have moved into second in Group A1 after their win

Although England dominated possession early on, Belgium went ahead inside nine minutes. The free-kick was awarded in somewhat controversial circumstances – Chloe Kelly penalised for a handball, despite being fouled just outside the box. De Neve then pinged a sensational effort over the wall, seeing Belgium ahead.

But the game took a worrying turn in the 19th minute as Greenwood suffered a serious head injury. While Blom was able to continue after her own lengthy period of medical attention, it took 13 minutes for Greenwood to be treated and stretched off.

Alex Greenwood was carried off on a stretcher in Belgium after a clash of heads

Belgium had their own injury worry soon after the restart as goalscorer De Neve was taken off – and England scored before her replacement came on. Bronze was on the end of a pinpoint Kelly free-kick, directing a fine header past Nicky Evrard.

The hosts struggled to adapt to De Neve’s departure, and after Alessia Russo fired agonisingly wide, England went ahead. It was a wonderful moment for Kirby, but started with a brilliant pass from Keira Walsh to Lauren Hemp down the left. She darted into the box before laying the ball off for Kirby to slide into the far corner.

Kirby returns for England after 385 days

England made one change from the win in Leicester – Fran Kirby returned after a year out, replacing Ella Toone.

But England were made to pay once again by Wullaert. Stanway again gave away the ball cheaply, with the forward timing her run to perfection this time. It was then a fine finish past Earps for her 76th international goal.

Both sides saw chances to retake the lead inside the opening 15 minutes of the second half. Kirby almost scored again after some fine England build-up, but her effort was saved by Evrard. Tine De Caigny then nipped in behind to clear the loose ball away.

Then Wullaert was played through once again, carving opening the England backline. But this time, her shot was parried away superbly by Earps.

England player ratings

England: Earps (7), Bronze (6), Bright (6), Greenwood (n/a), Charles (6), Walsh (7), Stanway (5), Hemp (6), Kirby (7), Kelly (7), Russo (6).

Subs used: Carter (6), Toone (5), Daly (6).

As has been all-too familiar with England, chances continued to pass them by, with Evrard in fine form to keep the Lionesses at bay. But it was a handball from Stanway that gave away a penalty late in the game as Yana Daniels’ shot hit her arm.

There was little protest as Wullaert lined up the spot kick and despite Earps leaping the right way, was a pinpoint dispatch from the Belgium captain to seal a famous victory.

Wiegman: We’ve put ourselves in tough position

England manager Sarina Wiegman to ITV Sport:

When you’re sloppy on the ball, they were ready for that. It’s the way they play, they’re not playing a possession game, as soon as they win it they’re gone.

“We have to be tight, especially building, creating. At moments where we don’t expect to lose the ball – we weren’t good enough at keeping it today and it’s a hard lesson for us.

On Alex Greenwood: “I haven’t talked to the medical staff on Alex’s injury. She’s alright, she’s walking.”

On Olympic and Nations League qualification: “We have to win by more than one goal against the Netherlands at Wembley, we have to win the other game because Belgium are in a very good place too.

“We know we have work to do – we always have work to do, but we’ve put ourselves in a hard position.”

Bronze: Sloppy passes to blame for defeat

Lucy Bronze grabbed the equaliser for England

England defender Lucy Bronze to ITV Sport:

“I think we actually created more chances than in the last game, but we were sloppier on the ball in general. The goals came from our missed passes, and apart from that they didn’t really create much, especially in the first half.

“We had a few chances to put the game to bed, if we were a little bit more clinical in front of goal.

“We were pushing at the end, it was unfortunate to give away the penalty and we’ve not got the ball across the line in the last 20, 30 minutes.

“In the other game, we were so good on the ball but didn’t create chances and then tonight it was the opposite.

“Alex having to come off when she’s one of our key ball players didn’t help, but a similar thing happened against Holland when we gave the ball away too easily.

“We have to look at ourselves individually and collectively, and then go again.

“We still have a good chance, we play our next game at Wembley, a stadium where we like to step up, a team we’ve played quite recently.

“We’ll put this game to bed, analyse it properly and look forward to that.”

What’s next?

England’s final two Nations League games take place in December. The Lionesses face the Netherlands – who beat them in September – at Wembley on Friday December 1.

Their final Group A1 fixture will be on Tuesday December 5 against Scotland at Hampden Park. Sarina Wiegman’s side may need a win there to qualify for the Nations League finals and keep Team GB’s hopes of reaching the 2024 Olympics alive.

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