Belgium dent England’s Nations League hopes and GB Olympic bid

England suffered another Nations League setback as a late penalty from Belgium captain Tessa Wullaert condemned them to a 3-2 defeat in Leuven.

After falling behind to Laura De Neve’s ninth-minute free-kick and then seeing defender Alex Greenwood carried off on a stretcher having been involved in a clash of heads, the Lionesses turned things around to lead via goals from Lucy Bronze and Fran Kirby.

But Wullaert subsequently put Belgium back on level terms in first-half stoppage time, then notched the winner from the spot with five minutes of normal time remaining at the end after Georgia Stanway handled.

Tessa Wullaert, centre right, scores Belgium's winner from the penalty spot
Tessa Wullaert, centre right, scores Belgium’s winner from the penalty spot (Rene Nijhuis/PA)

The result sees England – 1-0 victors over the Belgians in Leicester last Friday – leapfrogged by the Red Flames in Group A1 as Sarina Wiegman’s side slip to third place having been beaten for a second time in four matches in the pool.

With six points, England, who lost 1-0 to the Netherlands in September, are three behind the table-topping Dutch and one behind second-placed Belgium – the former won 1-0 against Scotland on Tuesday.

England’s next game is against the Netherlands at Wembley on December 1 as they look to bounce back in a competition that provides them with the opportunity to secure a Paris 2024 Olympics qualification spot for Great Britain – they need to finish top of the group to have a chance to do that.

Belgium looked threatening early on, with Wullaert bringing a save out of Mary Earps, albeit with the flag going up for offside.

And three minutes later the hosts were in front as De Neve curled a free-kick over the England wall and into the corner of Earps’ net.

Alex Greenwood receives oxygen during treatment for a head injury
Alex Greenwood left on a stretcher after a clash of heads (Rene Nijhuis/PA)

Soon after, there was a further setback for Wiegman’s side after Greenwood went down following an accidental clash of heads with Belgian forward Jassina Blom with around 20 minutes of the contest gone, leaving both players down on the turf.

Greenwood received treatment on the field for about 10 minutes before being placed on a stretcher and taken off, with Jess Carter coming on as her replacement. Blom, donning a head bandage, was able to continue.

While it was a worrying scene, a subsequent post from the Lionesses’ official X account said Greenwood was “conscious and talking, and…being monitored by our medical staff.”

Following the resumption of play, England produced an impressive response with Bronze bringing things level in the 38th minute by heading Chloe Kelly’s free-kick in off the bar.

As the visitors continued to pressurise, Kelly saw a shot deflect narrowly wide, Bronze’s header was saved by Nicky Evrard and Alessia Russo fired into the side-netting before Kirby – making her first England start in a year – put them in front in the 44th minute, slotting in from Lauren Hemp’s cut-back.

Fran Kirby, centre, celebrates after giving England a 2-1 lead
Fran Kirby, centre, celebrates after giving England a 2-1 lead (Rene Nijhuis/PA)

There was still an understandably lengthy period of stoppage time to get through before the interval, and six minutes into it Belgium hit back as Wullaert was played in and slotted past Earps.

England went close seven minutes after the break as Evrard parried Kirby’s shot and Tine De Caigny cleared the loose ball off the line, and Wullaert was then denied by Earps in similar circumstances to when she had beaten her.

Russo again found the side-netting, Bronze saw a shot blocked and England substitute Rachel Daly’s header was turned around the post by Evrard before Yana Daniels, who had come on for the home side, unleashed a strike that hit Stanway’s arm.

Referee Esther Staubli pointed to the spot and Wullaert sent her effort from 12 yards into the corner as Belgium emerged triumphant from a topsy-turvy game.

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