England 1-0 Belgium: Lauren Hemp’s first half goal is enough for the Lionesses to return to winning ways as Fran Kirby makes her first international appearance in more than a year
- The Lionesses beat Belgium 1-0 in the Nations League to return to winning ways
- Lauren Hemp’s first half strike sealed the victory after Millie Bright hit the post
- Fran Kirby made her long-awaited return to the England side in the second half
The positive thing about hangovers is that they do not last forever. England’s victory over Belgium was the perfect tonic to put the memories of August’s World Cup final defeat firmly in the past.
It was clear the Lionesses were still suffering when they staggered to a narrow win over Scotland before being beaten by the Netherlands last month.
They may have endured some nervy moments here as well as missing opportunities to make this victory more comfortable, but this was a performance more akin to those we expect from a Sarina Wiegman team.
‘Very happy with the win. Three points is very important,’ Wiegman said. ‘I think we started the game really well, very aggressive and we wanted to dominate. I think that’s what we did but we had some different stages in the game. In the first half we created chances straight away and we scored a pretty early goal.
‘I just hoped we would score a little more goals because we created so many chances. It becomes easier when you score the second goal because then we are a little more comfortable.
England returned to winning ways with a 1-0 victory against Belgium in the Nations League
Lauren Hemp’s first half strike was the difference as she scored her 15th international goal
The Man City forward reacted quickest to fire home after Millie Bright’s header hit the post
‘Of course we want to score four goals, like today we could have scored more. We want to do that. But don’t forget the opponents are really good too. It’s now the Nations League and it’s more competitive. Defensively, the opponents are better too. It’s harder to score goals. If we can win 5-0 we are really happy but I don’t think we will get those scores a lot any more.’
Beating Belgium was not only crucial to ending the post-World Cup dip but to ensuring England’s Nations League campaign got back on track.
Lauren Hemp’s first half strike was enough to take the Lionesses above the Red Flames in their group and level on points with the Netherlands, who beat Scotland 4-0.
England must progress to the final of this competition for Team GB to qualify for next year’s Olympics, or finish third if hosts France reach the last two.
There are three games left to win the group. Wiegman’s side will take on Belgium again next Tuesday before games against the Netherlands and Scotland in December.
England (4-3-3): Earps 7.5, Bronze 6.5, Bright 7.5, Greenwood 7, Charles 8, Walsh 6.5, Stanway 7, Toone 6.5 (Kirby 65, 6), Kelly 7 (Park 84), Russo 6.5 (Daly 64, 6), Hemp 7.5
Subs not used: Hampton, Roebuck, Keating, Morgan, Carter, Zelem, Wubben-Moy, Clinton, Daly, Le Tissier
Goals: Hemp 13
Manager: Sarina Wiegman
Belgium (3-5-2): Evrard, Cayman, De Caigny, De Neve, Vangheluwe (Wijnants 45), Vanhaevermaet, Delacauw (Blom 75), Missipo (Janssens 87), Deloose, Wullaert, Detruyer (Daniels 75)
Subs not used: Lemey, Lichtfus, Philtjens, Van Belle, Brackman, Iliano, Daniels, Blom, Fon, Littel
Manager: Ives Serneels
Referee: Lina Lehtovaara
England dominated possession in the clash but were unable to add to their advantage
The Lionesses were backed by a boisterous 28,321 supporters at the King Power Stadium
Fran Kirby made her first international appearance in a year after coming off the bench
England had beaten Belgium 6-1 in February’s Arnold Clark Cup but the Red Flames are a much improved side. They may not have qualified for this summer’s World Cup but their victory over the Dutch last month indicated a repeat of previous heavy scorelines was unlikely.
The return of Keira Walsh from injury saw Wiegman revert back to 4-3-3 – a system that had served the England boss well before she opted to switch during the World Cup following an injury to Walsh. Another reason why Wiegman had played three at the back in the summer was a lack of a natural left back. But Niamh Charles’ impressive form for Chelsea in recent weeks saw her rewarded with a starting place on that side of the defence – and she made a strong case to stay there.
Much of what England did well in the first half came through Charles, who looked to combine with Hemp at every opportunity.
It was Charles’ good work down the left which forced the corner for Hemp’s opener. Chloe Kelly’s in-swinging delivery was met by Millie Bright, whose header hit the post before rebounding to Hemp – who fired in from close range.
Mary Earps was as solid as ever and the England goalkeeper kept yet another clean sheet
Sarina Wiegman’s side returned to winning ways after losing to the Netherlands last time out
Mary Earps, whose name was chanted every time she touched the ball, had earlier made a fine save to push a Justine Vanhaevermaet header on to the post before catching the ball at the second attempt.
England should have been further ahead before half-time after Charles and Hemp combined again, with the latter crossing for Alessia Russo in the box. But the striker misjudged the flight of the ball to let Belgium off the hook.
The introduction of Fran Kirby, who was making her first appearance in over a year following injury, gave England a burst of energy after a quiet start to the second half. But chances remained few and far between. England could have done with the attacking threat of Lauren James, who was ruled out of this game and next week’s return match after suffering a concussion in training.
Alex Greenwood’s free-kick, which was well saved by Nicky Evrard, was the last real chance of note as England saw out the closing stages without being troubled.
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