FROM KING POWER STADIUM- Lauren Hemp’s early strike gifted England a much needed win to get their Nations League and Paris 2024 campaigns back on track with a 1-0 win over Belgium.
Sarina Wiegman made three changes after losing 2-1 to the Netherlands last month. With Lauren James ruled out with a concussion, Keira Walsh and Chloe Kelly returned to the fold. Niamh Charles earned her first start for the Lionesses since February after impressing for Chelsea in the opening four WSL fixtures.
Lauren Hemp’s early strike got England back to winning ways in front of 28,321 fans in Leicester as the Lionesses’ fight to win their Nations League group and secure Olympic qualification continued.
With the Netherlands securing a 4-0 win over Scotland, England move to second in Group One, equal on points with their Dutch opponents.
How the game unfolded
Early positives from England had the hosts looking sprightly but Mary Earps was called in to make a big save to deny Belgium the opener nine minutes in.
Chloe Kelly’s well-worked corner broke the deadlock four minutes later. Millie Bright’s headed effort rebounded off the goalpost into the path of Hemp, who reacted quickly to slot home from close range.
With confidence building for the Lionesses against a low-set Belgium, Alex Greenwood’s long range shot fell safely into the clutches of Red Flames’ stopper Nicky Evrard. Taking a chance on the counter, Tessa Wullaert”s attempt took a big deflection off skipper Bright to roll inches wide of the far post.
Charles and Hemp combined effortlessly to draw Evrard off her line, leaving an open goal for Russo to aim at, but the Arsenal striker could not capitalise on the gifted chance – the story of the evening for England’s forwards.
Starting the second half on the front foot, two chances from Bright and Russo fell short as the Lionesses looked to double their lead.
Coming off the bench, Fran Kirby returned to the international stage for the first time in over a year following a series of injuries. She last featured in an England shirt on 11 October 2022.
Despite successive chances, England were struggling to capitalise. Losing control of the ball and the game, Evrard was pulling out impressive stops as England clung to their narrow lead until the final whistle.
GK: Mary Earps – 8/10 – Solid at the back once again for the Lionesses as the defending proved key in keeping hold of the narrow early lead. Communication between the backline and Earps was much improved since the last outing.
RB: Lucy Bronze – 7/10 – A more collected approach from Bronze saw the right-back push further up the pitch but was able to make key defensive blocks to cover her higher stance.
CB: Millie Bright – 8/10 – Consistently solid for England, the skipper made important blocks to prevent Belgium’s attack and was key in set pieces, proving a tough nut for Belgium to mark.
CB: Alex Greenwood – 8/10 – Pivotal in defence and made significant contributions pushing forward. Her vision was key in playing through-balls and over the top of Belgium’s low block.
LB: Niamh Charles – 8/10 – Earned her first start in eight months and was crucial on the left flank, driving forward to find Hemp and creating important chances.
CM: Georgia Stanway – 6/10 – Uncharacteristic from Stanway to lose the ball as much as she did. Struggled to maintain pace in the middle as England’s control wavered.
CM: Keira Walsh – 6/10 – Returning to the fold after missing the previous two fixtures, Walsh’s dominance in midfield was dictating the pace with a link-up with Bronze proving fruitful. Could have done more to drive forward to assist a struggling Toone.
CM: Ella Toone – 6/10 – Despite some key contributions, her decision-making was proving an issue, giving away the ball and playing skewed passes that interrupted England’s formulated attack.
RW: Chloe Kelly – 7/10 – Sprightly on the flanks and used her pace and skills in set pieces to the utmost advantage but was let down by others being unable to finish the chances she had engineered for the side.
ST: Alessia Russo – 6/10 – Lacked clinical finishing in front of goal, failing to take the chances that fell to her. Despite this, Russo did well to hold the ball up.
LW: Lauren Hemp – 8/10 – Once again, was England’s most progressive attacking threat. Beat Belgium’s defence on pace and caused problems for both full-backs after switching flanks.
SUB: Rachel Daly (64′ for Russo) – 6/10 – Came into the game in a tough patch as England’s control dimmed yet her runs and aggression injected a fresh energy into the side.
SUB: Fran Kirby (64′ for Toone) – 7/10 – Slightly rusty from Kirby which is understandable given the length of time she spent absent from the England setup. Her creativity was key when England looked as if they had run out of ideas to breakdown the low block.
SUB: Jess Park (84′ for Kelly) – N/A
Subs not used: Khiara Keating (GK), Hannah Hampton (GK), Ellie Roebuck (GK), Maya Le Tissier, Lotte Wubben-Moy, Jess Carter, Esme Morgan, Katie Zelem, Grace Clinton
Sarina Wiegman – 6/10 – Despite boasting an impressive XI, the lack of creativity and ability to change tactics when things where beginning to struggle was a plot fall for the boss.