By Samindra Kunti in Leuven
November 1 – England’s chances of Olympic qualification were given a huge dent after a 3-2 defeat to Belgium, a result that leaves the Netherlands in control of Group 1 in the Women’s Nations League.
The Belgians had a dream start with a 9th-minute free-kick goal from Laura De Neve, who found the bottom-right corner with a low curled attempt that Mary Earps should have dealt better with.
With the Nations League doubling up as Olympic qualifiers (England are competing for a slot for a combined team from the four football federations of Great Britain), the World Cup finalists had their backs against the wall in the race for a ticket to Paris but the first half was badly derailed after a serious head injury to defender Alex Greenwood following a collision with Jassina Blom. The Red Cross and England backroom staff members tended to Greenwood for 13 minutes before she was stretchered off.
With De Neve injuring her foot, England took advantage of the numerical advantage in the 38th minute finding an equaliser through Lucy Bronze’s looping header. Six minutes later, Fran Kirby’s cool finish handed the visitors the lead. The hosts drew level with Tessa Wullaert’s breakaway goal in injury time.
In a tight second half, England controlled the match but struggled to break down the Belgian defense. The hosts played typically robust football in a 4-5-1 formation and Sarina Wiegman’s charges paid the price for a lethargic second half when Wullaert converted a penalty in the 83rd minute. It was Belgium’s second win against an elite country after victory of the Netherlands in September.
The Dutch defeated Scotland in Glasgow with a second-half goal from Esmee Brugts and top the group with a perfect record. Belgium, on seven points, leapfrog England to second place. The group winner will progress to the Nations League final four with the two finalists joining hosts France as European representatives at the Olympic football tournament next year.
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