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Lauren Hemp gets England back to winning ways against Belgium

Lauren Hemp’s first-half strike was the difference but the narrow scoreline did not tell the full story of England’s Nations League victory. This was a more familiar England performance, one closer to what we have come to expect under Sarina Wiegman, as opposed to the ones they produced last month.

The Lionesses played with a swagger befitting their title of European champions, securing a first clean sheet since the World Cup last-16 game against Nigeria and a win that moved them level with the Netherlands on six points. Only the group winner will progress to the knockout stage and edge closer to securing a place in the Paris Olympics next summer.

“Very happy with the win,” said Wiegman. “Three points is very important. I think we started the game really well, very aggressive and we wanted to dominate … I just hoped we would score a little more goals because we created so many chances. It becomes easier when you score the second goal because then we are a little more comfortable.”

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There were three changes to the side that suffered a frustrating 2-1 defeat against the Netherlands last month, with Barcelona’s Keira Walsh back from injury and Manchester City’s Chloe Kelly and in-form Chelsea full-back Niamh Charles included in the starting XI.

There was also a switch in formation, with the back three that England experimented with at the World Cup ditched in favour of the more familiar 4-3-3. That change was perhaps in part due to the inclusion of Charles, who pushes forward with such pace and ease that she is almost an extra player when attacking and defending.

“Niamh showed she really developed over the year,” Wiegman said. “At the World Cup she was already very good but you haven’t seen it that much – in training we’ve seen it all the time.”

For Ives Serneels’ Belgium side, there were two changes to the team that drew 1-1 with Scotland in their last match, with Leicester’s Janice Cayman starting at her home ground and goalkeeper Nicky Evrard, who is on loan at Brighton from Chelsea, both included.

England laboured to a 2-1 win against Scotland last month before losing to the Netherlands, which felt somewhat inevitable. There were caveats then, though, as the Lionesses were without long-term absentees Leah Williamson, Fran Kirby, Beth Mead and, more recently, Beth England and Walsh.

Many of their players were also victims of a tight turnaround between the World Cup final and the start of the Nations League campaign. If anyone had doubted the impact of an international window the week before the start of the season and with players not long returned to their clubs, it was clear at the King Power Stadium. England were transformed from the side that struggled to assert themselves with the authority of European champions in September.

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It took three minutes for Wiegman’s side to threaten the Belgium goal, with Hemp’s effort turned away by Evrard before Ella Toone’s header under pressure sent the ball trickling narrowly wide of the far post.

Lauren Hemp fires home from close range at the King Power Stadium.Lauren Hemp fires home from close range at the King Power Stadium. Photograph: Darren Staples/AFP/Getty Images

Tessa Wullaert was the greatest threat for the Red Flames in the first half and she sent in a cross for Justine Vanhaevermaet to head goalwards only for Mary Earps to make a fine save.

England took control less than five minutes later, when Millie Bright rose above Kassandra Missipo and sent her header crashing off the far post. Hemp reacted fastest to score.

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England should have been more than a goal ahead at the break but they struggled with the final ball. Alex Greenwood forced a save from distance, but it was at the half-hour mark when they had a gilt-edged chance to double the lead.

Bright sent a ball over the top to Charles on the left and the Chelsea defender nodded on to Hemp, who pulled the ball across the face of goal from the tightest of angles, but Alessia Russo couldn’t connect to turn the ball into the empty net.

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Roundup: Dutch bounce back against Scotland


The Netherlands saw off Scotland 4-0 to stay level with England at the top of Group A1. Daniëlle van de Donk flicked home at the near post to open the scoring after 12 minutes, with 20-year-old forward Esmee Brugts doubling their lead on the rebound after a fine team move.

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Lineth Beerensteyn latched on to a long ball to score the hosts’ third soon after the restart, then added a fourth as the Dutch bounced back from their 2-1 defeat in Belgium. Scotland stay bottom of the group, and need to take something from Tuesday’s return at Hampden Park.

In Group A3, Wales were beaten 5-1 by Germany after Ceri Holland’s close-range finish just before half-time saw them go in level. Lea Schüller opened the scoring and restored Germany’s lead in the 47th minute, before Giulia Gwinn’s penalty made the game safe for the hosts.

As the visitors tired, Sjœke Nüsken’s shot deflected in off Rhiannon Roberts before subsitute Nicole Anyomi added a fifth. Germany are second in the group behind Denmark, who beat Iceland 1-0 in Reykjavik thanks to Amalie Vangsgaard’s winner 20 minutes from time.

Wendie Renard’s winner kept France on course to win Group A2 with a 2-1 success over Norway, while Barbara Dunst got the decisive goal as Austria beat Portugal 2-1 to climb into second place. In Group A4, Magda Eriksson’s goal was enough for Sweden to beat  Switzerland.

In the second tier, Northern Ireland lost 3-2 to Hungary in a dramatic finale. Hanna Nemeth’s stoppage-time free kick won it as the hosts leapfrogged their opponents in the Group B1 table. The visitors had twice levelled late on through Caragh Hamilton and Simone Magill.

The Republic of Ireland top the group and they stayed on course for promotion, Katie McCabe hitting a hat-trick as they thrashed Albania 5-1 in Dublin. The Arsenal star set up Ireland’s other two goals, scored in the second half by Kyra Carusa. Guardian sport

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The second half was much like the first, with England dominating but failing to add to their slender lead.

As each minute passed without a second England goal, Belgium threatened to spoil the party. In the 55th minute, half-time substitute Sarah Wijnants forced a diving save from Earps from distance.

It was far less comfortable than it should have been as the clock ticked towards full time. There were plenty of positives to take from a dominant performance with lots of chances created, but Wiegman’s side must start converting them. They will have a chance to do that immediately, with the reverse fixture against Belgium in Leuven on Tuesday night, before they play the Netherlands at Wembley and Scotland away in December.