England ensured they finished top of their Women’s Euro 2017 qualifying group by winning their final match against Belgium.
England only needed a draw to secure top spot and, after a lacklustre first half, Nikita Parris set them on the way to victory after the break.
The striker headed home Karen Carney’s cross to give England the lead.
England dominated thereafter and Carney doubled the visitors’ advantage with a heavily deflected strike.
Jade Moore won the ball and released Carney, who neatly beat one defender on the edge of the box before her shot went in off Lorca van de Putte.
Victory extended England’s unbeaten run to seven matches, with the past five ending in victories. The Lionesses last lost a competitive qualifier in November 2002.
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England fail to impress in first half
England had already qualified for next summer’s tournament in the Netherlands thanks to the 5-0 thumping of Estonia on 15 September, but boss Mark Sampson said before the match in Leuven that he was determined his team would end the qualifiers as group leaders.
Belgium, the only team to have taken a point off Sampson’s side during the campaign, could have finished top of Group 7 had they won, but they never truly came close and must settle for second spot.
Neither team impressed in a first half full of stray passes and pedestrian attacks. England’s best chance fell to Lucy Bronze, whose long-range effort was a fraction wide of the top corner.
Belgium also had an opportunity to break the deadlock and would probably have scored through a Tessa Wullaert inswinging corner had Jill Scott not headed away.
Carney proves class
Belgium were organised in defence and for most of the match were quick to close down playmaker Carney whenever she received the ball, reducing her influence in the final third and consequently nullifying England.
But on the rare occasions Belgium did give Carney space to pull England’s strings, the Chelsea forward was ruthless. First, she floated a lovely cross towards the industrious Parris, who scored her third international goal, and followed up with five minutes remaining with a goal of her own, completely wrong-footing Justien Odeurs thanks to the deflection.
Sampson has proven he is not afraid to make changes – tweaking the formation during this campaign and making two changes to the team that beat Estonia, with Siobhan Chamberlain and Gemma Davison replaced by Karen Bardsley and Gilly Flaherty.
But it was the introduction of Moore that changed the course of this match, with the midfielder breaking up play and giving the visitors more ballast in midfield.
England’s Euro 2017 preparations begin in earnest with a friendly against France, a team ranked third in the world, next month in Doncaster.
Sampson promises ‘fittest England team ever’
Sampson said he will focus on getting his team in peak physical condition for the tournament, which begins in July.
“We will have to compete physically and be organised defensively. And we have got to get fitter,” he said.
“That’s the big shift. We’ve set a really strong pace in terms of the fitness levels. We’ve got to be the fittest England team ever going into this tournament.
“We could look back next summer and realise this was a really good England result. Belgium beat Norway not so long ago and beat Russia 5-0 so it was a good result for us.”
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/37407067