England 1-0 Belgium: Lauren Hemp gives Lionesses narrow Nations League victory27 October 2023
England returned to winning ways in the Women's Nations League with a hard-fought victory over Belgium.
Victory moves Sarina Wiegman's side level with the Netherlands at the top of their group to boost their chances of qualifying for the Olympic Games on behalf of Team GB.
Lauren Hemp gave England a first-half lead when she pounced on a rebound off the post from Millie Bright's header.
That came after England goalkeeper Mary Earps pushed Justine Vanhaevermaet's header onto the post at the other end.
The Lionesses, who lost to the Netherlands in their last match, went on to dominate possession and create numerous chances but did not make them count.
Belgium tested Earps on a few more occasions and could have equalised as England held on nervously for victory at a sold-out King Power Stadium in Leicester.
Wiegman's side must top their group to have a chance of qualifying for the 2024 Olympic Games on behalf of Team GB.
Great Britain will reach the Olympics if nominated nation England reach the Nations League final. However, third place will be enough if Olympics host nation France reach the final.
Kirby returns but England make hard work of it
England's underwhelming performances in September meant they were under more pressure than usual coming into this fixture.
They had never lost back-to-back matches under Wiegman and it had been five games since they kept a clean sheet.
Keen to prove a point perhaps, England started with intensity and created numerous chances as Hemp, Niamh Charles and Ella Toone all had efforts on goal within the opening four minutes.
It set a precedent for the first half as England's attacking play flourished and Belgium invited pressure in defence by being far too open.
Hemp eventually gave England the lead when she reacted quickest to Bright's header with a smart volley from close range - capping off a strong 45 minutes from the Manchester City winger.
Her combinations with Chelsea defender Charles - returning to the starting XI as reward for her impressive start to the Women's Super League season - caused all sorts of problems for Belgium, but England lacked a clinical edge once again in the box.
As the match wore on, England's frustrations grew.
Alessia Russo squandered several efforts, Toone struck a shot close to goalkeeper Nicky Evrard, Chloe Kelly had an effort deflected just wide and Alex Greenwood's free-kick was well-saved.
It meant it was harder work than it needed to be for England and led to some anxious moments in the second half.
Belgium showed they could cause problems when given the opportunity. Vanhaevermaet's header, pushed away by goalkeeper Earps in the first half, was a big chance, while Sarah Wijnants also tested the England number one.
Tine de Caigny hit the side-netting from a set-piece and England struggled in general to defend the visitors' corners.
But there were positives for Wiegman - England are back to winning ways and level on points with group leaders the Netherlands with three games to play.
There was also a welcome return for instrumental Chelsea midfielder Fran Kirby after a year away from the national team through injury.
- 10TooneSubstituted forKirbyat 65'minutes
- 7KellySubstituted forParkat 84'minutes
- 9RussoSubstituted forDalyat 64'minutes
- 20Le Tissier
- 6De Caigny
- 18De Neve
- 15VangheluweSubstituted forWijnantsat 45'minutes
- 23MissipoSubstituted forJanssensat 87'minutes
- 20DetruyerSubstituted forDanielsat 76'minutes
- 8DelacauwSubstituted forBlomat 76'minutes
- 3Van Belle
- Lina Lehtovaara
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