The Belgian Red Flames are arguably enjoying their healthiest spell as a national team at the present, with the older guard being ushered out in place of hopeful players in their early 20s. Even though the team continues to lack a dynamite starting XI, as ever, you can say that Belgium have players, or pieces, but they don’t have the whole jigsaw yet there is still more this team can show. Against England, they played not to win but to not lose. The tactics weren’t weighted with negativity but there was little room for the team to harness their collective attacking parts.
Uninspired in the Midlands
Largely – before conceding their first by ways of an unfortunate deflection off of Amber Tysiak’s shin – the Belgian midfield and attack flexed against England’s advances. The team allowed themselves to be malleable and bend against the hosts, like the plastic rings around the top of a six-pack, bending until the can wriggled free. The back four doing similar and often taking up a circular shape within the 18-yard box, leaving clean green grass for England to attack. Indeed, in was mostly the poor finishing from an excited England team that kept the two scoreless at the break. A few last ditch challenges from the defenders there to save their blushes and keep Nicky Evrard on her toes, if not called into immediate action.
When the team did concede, early in the second half, they found themselves with few options to get back into the game and when Rachel Daly’s thunderous strike four minutes punched against the back of the net, there were no open avenues left. The team had had the odd chance to get into the England box and attack but Mary Earps wasn’t asked to make a save – a glorified claim – until the first moments of second half stoppage time. For all those intriguing attacking pieces, there was no harmony in how their approached the task of attacking.
The game wore on, with England claiming a third, another own goal, this time off of the back of Evrard’s gloves as she arced backwards, trying to paw out Leah Williamson’s crossbar dinger. The Red Flames got flatter on the pitch, unable to find much flexibility anywhere on the pitch, attacks grew more hopeful and the inevitability of the loss reached out and curled its fingers around those on the pitch.
The Summer ahead
Facing three stern tests in England next month, their performance against the tournament hosts doesn’t promise a huge amount of hope for the evolving team. Like so many other nations around the world, Belgium slide right into the category of being able to beat those below them in the rankings but having few ideas of what to do when things get tough against better opposition. Even with individuals that could potentially grab a game by the scruff and produce a moment of magic, their showing in Wolverhampton was uninspired and carried the hallmarks of a team growing stale rather than one being rejuvenated by younger talent.
A relatively diminutive nation in terms of their history in women’s football, it bridges on condescending to simply praise the team for reaching a second consecutive European Championship but their success is indeed, easier to define in what they do during qualification. In their growth and bedding in of younger players who get looks after impressing in the slowly growing Super League, those are the fundamentals of evolution and longevity on the international stage.