A Rachel Daly volley and two own goals took England past Belgium in the first of their three pre-Euro friendlies.
Their manager, Sarina Wiegman, has demanded ruthlessness from the Lionesses since taking charge last summer, but at Molineux she was forced to rely on her substitutes to inject a tip after a frustrating first half.
Chloe Kelly’s deflected shot and Daly’s impressive goal were the difference in the second half, before Leah Williamson’s shot ricocheted off the crossbar and into the back of goalkeeper Nicky Evrard.
“I think when you win 3-0, that’s enough,” Wiegman said. “I think when you go into a Euro you need a little more cruelty.”
Where does ruthlessness come from? “You want to improve it, so you train, talk about it, watch music videos,” she said. “The last third is the most difficult part. It’s a mental thing, it’s an execution thing.
There were few surprises in Wiegman’s starting XI. Arsenal centre-back Lotte Wubben-Moy lined up alongside Millie Bright in defence, with Alex Greenwood still on the back after Covid and Jess Carter returned to full fitness after a difficult season. Georgia Stanway, who recently joined Bayern Munich from Manchester City, was hailed ahead of Fran Kirby and Ella Toone at No.10.
With that position providing the only real question mark ahead of England’s opener at Old Trafford on July 6, it was interesting to see Williamson striding forward to swap places with Stanway or play alongside him, the manager exploring his options beyond expectations. trio of Stanway, Kirby and Toone.
“Yeah, that’s good,” Wiegman said of the three’s potential interactions. “It’s all about teamwork, when someone moves on, another player moves on, when the move hasn’t been done much, it takes a bit of work.”
Wiegman had warned that Belgium would be a tough opponent, despite the 12 places that separate them in the FIFA rankings. “Belgium has developed a lot and is also heading towards the Euro,” she said. “They can play a bit opportunistic, but they also want to play a possession game.”
Belgium open Euros Group D against Iceland at the Manchester City Academy Stadium, with Italy and France completing their group.
When England and Belgium last met in August 2019, Phil Neville’s side had lost a two-goal lead and relied on a 75th-minute Nikita Parris penalty to salvage a 3-3 draw in the team’s first match after third place. World Cup play-off loss to Sweden. Nevertheless, for a team hoping to win a major tournament, Belgium, a side they haven’t lost to in 10 games since 1980, should be small fry.
At halftime, the stats told a story of dominance. The Lionesses had enjoyed 66% possession and 14 shots on goal. Still, they struggled to find the ruthlessness that saw them score 72 goals in 11 games under Wiegman before kick-off.
Evrard did well to deflect Ellen White’s header from close range past Beth Mead’s cross. The 27-year-old also fended off a shot near the post from Lauren Hemp after a labyrinthine run down the left, then was saved by defender Sari Kees, who denied England captain Williamson an opening goal with the armband by clearing the line after cutting the ball over the keeper.
On the captain’s other arm, and on that of all England players, was a black stripe worn in tribute to Wiegman’s sister after her recent death.
“They’ve been so supportive of me,” Wiegman said. “The captains came to me and asked if we could wear them. They are such good human beings and it shows the unity of the team. It was a great gesture. My sister would be proud.
Clearly frustrated with the slightly outdated first half, both managers turned things around at the break. Daly replaced Demi Stokes at left-back, Greenwood replaced Wubben-Moy and Kelly replaced Mead. Belgian defenders Kees and Laura De Neve have been replaced by Amber Tysiak and midfielder Charlotte Tison.
Unfortunately for Belgium, England’s key would be the foot of substitute Tysiak, who deflected Kelly’s shot to the near post after the winger had collected Bronze’s pass and skated into the box.
The crowd of 9,598 – disappointing for a friendly build-up to a home tournament – breathed a collective sigh of relief when the ball hit the back of the net. England were rewarded for their patience with a cleaner goal soon after: a corner kick around the box before falling on Daly near the penalty spot, and the versatile Houston striker Dash volleyed in for extend his team’s lead.
Williamson didn’t put herself on the scoresheet but played a big part in England’s final goal. The ball bounced to his feet after Evrard fended off substitute Parris’ header from a corner, and the midfielder fired a shot off the crossbar which deflected off the keeper’s back and inside.