Tessa Wullaert’s brace fired Belgium to a dramatic 3-2 home win over England in League A1 of 2023-24 UEFA Women’s Nations League.
Wullaert equalised for Belgium in first-half injury time before she took advantage of Georgia Stanway’s handball to fire in a 85th minute winning penalty.
Laura De Neve earlier had curled the hosts ahead in the ninth minute before a serious collision between Alex Greenwood and Jassina Blom halted play in the 18th minute. whilst quick-fire goals from Lucy Bronze and Fran Kirby after the restart saw England fight back to lead briefly.
Belgium now sit second in the group ahead of England by one point but two points behind group leaders, Netherlands.
Having battled to a narrow home win last Friday (27 October), England began on the front foot in Leuven with a fourth minute free-kick cleared by Belgium’s Nicky Evrard.
Belgium however drew first blood in this Halloween encounter after Chloe Kelly was penalised for handball just outside of the box, which allowd De Neve to curl her ninth-minute free-kick straight into the near-top right corner beyond the reach of an outstretched Mary Earps.
England struggled to mount a response as Belgium continued to soak up their pressure and hit them on the counter attack, until Greenwood and Blom banged heads in the 18th minute as they tried to meet an aerial pass.
The impact of their clash of heads resulted in both players falling to ground which necessitated a 13-minute delay for medical treatment, with Blom eventually able to continue after concussion checks whilst Greenwood was stretchered off.
England tweeted at half-time that Greenwood was concious and talking to medical staff under observation.
Alex Greenwood is conscious and talking, and is being monitored by our medical staff. ❤️
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) October 31, 2023
That lengthy delay reignited England’s intensity which paid off as Lucy Bronze drew a 36th minute foul from Marie Detruyer, from which she headed in from Kelly’s subsequent free-kick two minutes later to restore parity.
Kelly then fired wide in 41st minute as Belgium were forced to substiute De Neves due to injury, which unsettled their defence.
That change further motivated England whilst Belgium’s defence were adjusting to the enforced change, as Bronze’s header a minute later from Keira Walsh’s cross was fired wide on the rebound by Alessia Russo.
England continued to press and got their reward in the 44th minute as Lauren Hemp was unleashed up the left flank by Walsh, which allowed her to find Kirby on the pullback to rifle in beyond Evrard to turn the tie around.
England’s lead however only lasted seven minutes into 14 minutes of first-half injury time, as Wullaert was played through on the counter-attack by Janice Cayman to slot into the far left corner to pull Belgium level at the break.
Upon the second-half start, Kirby quickly drew a foul from Kassandra Missipo but Russo fumbled control from Kelly’s free-kick and her shot was blocked as England attempted to reclaim the lead.
Evrard then saved Kirby’s shot from Bronze’s pullback pass in the 52nd minute as England continued to test the Red Flames’ defence.
England however were given an almighty scare just past the hour mark as Wullaert pounced upon a through ball and side-stepped both Jess Carter and Millie Bright, yet Earps crucially blocked her shot with a stunning save to keep the score level.
Belgium however were forced to defend for much of the last half-hour as Russo and Georgia Stanway saw shots denied, whilst substitute – Rachel Daly nodded wide in the 80th minute from Walsh’s deep corner towards the left post.
Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses were eventually made to pay for their wasted chances as Stanway handballed Daniels’ 83rd minute spot, which led referee – Esther Staubli to award a penalty to the hosts.
Wullaert stepped up and fired the penalty into the bottom-left corner to put Belgium in front, despite Earps diving the correct way to try and make the save.
Belgium eventually clung on for victory which put them second in the group ahead of England and two points behind Netherlands, with their two rivals set to meet on 1 December in a blockbuster showdown.
Belgium will meet Scotland on Friday 1 December at Den Dreef, Leuven in a 8:30pm CET (7:30pm) kick-off, with the Belgian Red Flames knowing that a win would put their fate in their own hands heading into their final group match away to the Netherlands.
England meanwhile host Netherlands that same evening at Wembley Stadium, London, in a 7:45pm GMT kick-off, with the Lionesses needing to win their last two games and hope that Netherlands plus Belgium slip up to stand any chance of qualifying for the knockout stages
Belgium: Nicky Evrard, Sari Kees, Tine De Caigny, Laura De Neve (Wijnants 41′), Janice Cayman, Kassandra Missipo, Justine Vanhaevermaet, Laura Deloose, Marie Detruyer (Daniels 74′), Tessa Wullaert, Jassina Blom (Declacauw 74′)
Substitutes: Davina Philtjens, Shari Van Belle, Amy Littel, Sarah Wijnants, Isabelle Iliano, Feli Declacauw, Diede Lemey, Yana Daniels, Jody Vangheluwe, Welma Fon, Jill Janssens, Lisa Lichtfus
England: Mary Earps, Lucy Bronze, Millie Bright, Alex Greenwood (Carter 32′), Niamh Charles, Georgia Stanway, Keira Walsh, Chloe Kelly, Fran Kirby (Toone 68), Lauren Hemp, Alessia Russo (Daly 68′)
Substitutes: Esme Morgan, Hannah Hampton, Ella Toone, Jess Carter, Katie Zelem, Lotte Wubben-Moy, Grace Clinton, Rachel Daly, Maya Le Tissier, Ellie Roebuck, Jess Park, Khiara Keating
Referee – Esther Staubli (Switzerland)