By Samindra Kunti in Leuven
September 24 – Belgium upset the Netherlands 2-1 to kick off their Nations League campaign on a high and throw Group A1 wide open.
In a first half shorn of opportunities, the Netherlands almost opened the scoring in the closing seconds when goalkeeper Nicky Evrard punched away a low attempt from Lieke Martens. At the hour mark, the visitors did get the opener through Jill Roord, but their joy was short-lived when, two minutes later, Marie Detruyer equalized with a bit of good fortune.
Yet it was a reward for the Red Flames, who proved far more disciplined and combative than in the last meeting between the two neighbours. In July, the Dutch had thrashed Belgium 5-0 in their final warmup match before the World Cup.
There was to be no repeat of a Dutch victory. Dominant on the ball, they failed to make their possession count and the hosts grabbed a late winner from a set piece to win against the Netherlands for the first time since 2016. Belgian manager Ives Serneels opted for a backline of five, shielded by midfielders Kassandra Missipo and Justine Vanhaevermaet. The Belgians’s grit saw them over the line against a more talented and more experienced opponent who had reached the last eight at the World Cup in August.
“I knew that a good result against the Netherlands was possible, but winning is a dream,” said Serneels.
“We beat the number seven in the world, I don’t think we have beaten a top ten country before. I really enjoyed this match. I haven’t seen the Flames play this well in years. Everyone was good, the collective performance was outstanding. We have quality in our group and can still grow.”
In the group’s other match, England overcame Scotland with the same scoreline. It was the English’s first outing after their World Cup final defeat and they never hit the heights of their campaign in Australia, missing Keira Walsh in midfield. Unsurprisingly, Lucy Bronze and Lauren Hemp got the goals for the hosts with Kristy Hanson scoring for Scotland.
In other results, Ireland defeated Northern Ireland 3-0, Denmark won 2-0 against Germany, Italy edged past Switzerland 1-0 and Spain defeated Sweden 3-2 in a game that was marked by renewed support for the Spanish women’s team.
On Tuesday, the Nations League picks up again when the Lionesses travel to the Netherlands and Scotland host Belgium.
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