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Belgium’s Wullaert stuns England with double after Greenwood injury scare

Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses leave Belgium bruised in more ways than one, a bad head injury to Alex Greenwood marring the match and a crushing 3-2 defeat taking progression from their Nations League group and Olympic qualification out of their hands.

The Den Dreef Stadium is fast becoming a cauldron, the Red Flames have already taken the scalp of neighbours the Netherlands here and theypunished the European champions’ profligacy, Tessa Wullaert’s late penalty dropping them down to third in the group.

Sarina Wiegman insists England ‘not panicking’ after costly defeat in BelgiumRead more

England’s hopes of earning Team GB a place at the Paris Olympics next summer hang by a thread. They must beat the Netherlands at Wembley, bettering the 2-1 result in the reverse fixture, and Scotland away and hope that Belgium slip up in their final two games to be in with a chance of winning a group poised on a knife edge.

There was just one change to the team that had dominated the Belgians in Leicester on Friday, with Fran Kirby in the starting XI for the first time since 11 October 2022. Kirby’s return had been desperately needed, with the Lionesses struggling in the final third and many hoping the creative dynamo would be the difference.

Meanwhile, Ives Serneels made two changes to the Belgium team that absorbed England’s pressure but found it difficult offensively, with Jassina Blom and Sari Kees, who returned from injury, replacing Féli Delacauw and Jody Vangheluwe.

Tessa Wullaert’s penalty beats the dive of Mary Earps to put Belgium 3-2 ahead.Tessa Wullaert’s penalty beats the dive of Mary Earps to put Belgium 3-2 ahead. Photograph: Frederic Scheidemann/The FA/Getty Images

Serneels said there were lots of positives to take from Friday’s narrow defeat and that his team could take confidence from it. That showed in Leuven. This was a more dynamic Belgium side and while England still dominated, it would be the Red Flames that would take the lead and they would repeatedly cause England problems on the counter.

The goal was a concession very much of England’s making, with Chloe Kelly under pressure from Kees having a foul given against her for handball on the edge of the England box. The free-kick though was sublime, curled around the wall by Laura De Neve and low into the corner.

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England pushed for the equaliser but in the 19th minute the noise of Greenwood and Blom clashing heads as they vied for a shoulder height 50-50 ball echoed around the Den Dreef Stadium and both slumped to the ground. The medical teams of both sides were immediately on the pitch, with Greenwood face down and not moving. The impact on Blom was less severe, with the Belgian bandaged up and cleared to play within four minutes – though she perhaps shouldn’t have been given she looked out of sorts afterwards.

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Sarina Wiegman says England will not panic after defeat in BelgiumRead more

Meanwhile, Greenwood would be gently taken away on a stretcher after a 13-minute delay, with a head brace on, oxygen mask over her face and blanket over her body. There were squeezes of the hand for Millie Bright and Georgia Stanway as she left and warm applause from the sold-out home crowd for the departing defender. Greenwood would be confirmed to be talking and being assessed at half-time and walking and OK but concussed after the match. Jess Carter would be the replacement, slotting in alongside Chelsea teammate Bright.

Refusing to be rattled by the loss of their influential centre-back, six minutes later England were back in the tie. Lucy Bronze won a free-kick on the right that Kelly sent in and Bronze was there on the end of it, looping her diagonal header over Nicky Evrard and into the net.

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England’s second followed not long after, Lauren Hemp going on a powerful run on the left before pulling the ball back to Kirby who sidefooted past Evrard for her first goal since the semi-finals of the Euros.

Alex Greenwood is attended by medics after a clash of heads.Alex Greenwood is attended by medics after a clash of heads. Photograph: Hollandse Hoogte/Shutterstock

However, this match often delivers a show and England would not have much time to rest on their lead. The Lionesses have twice got the better of Belgium under Wiegman, winning 6-1 in February in the Arnold Clark Cup and 3-0 in a friendly in June 2022, and they earned a 3-3 draw in Leuven in 2019 under Phil Neville. In the sixth minute of stoppage time before the break Belgium struck, Wullaert beating the much slower Carter and Bright before slotting coolly past Mary Earps.

The second half was as open as the first with both sides having chances to take the lead, but England laboured against the deep and compact Belgium back line. Alessia Russo would somehow fail to get a shot away from six yards quickly enough allowing Evrard to make the block shortly after the restart and Tine De Caigny would rescue Belgium shortly after, Kirby’s shot having had the sting taken out of it by Evrard, allowing the centre-back to clear off the line. Belgium still threatened on break though, and Wullaert would force a save from Earps after evading the tackles of Carter and Bright.

Disaster struck for England with seven minutes of normal time remaining. Substitute Yana Daniels cut in from the left and pinged the ball in, it rebounded off Stanway’s hand and the referee, Esther Staubli, pointed to the spot. Wullaert’s penalty was unstoppable, a powerful drive into the corner past Earps.

It was England’s fourth defeat under Wiegman and the first time they have conceded three under her. The Lionesses are creating chances, but a lack of a cutting edge is proving increasingly problematic.