England beat Belgium in their final match of the Women’s Euro 2017 qualifiers, ensuring they finish as Group 7 leaders.
England only needed a draw to finish top of the group 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 strike which took a heavy deflection.
Jade Moore won the ball and released Carney who neatly beat one defender on the edge of the box before scoring with a strike which went in via Lorca van de Putte.
It was a victory which extended England’s unbeaten run to seven matches, with the past five of those 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 England 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 beaten England, 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 from the top corner.
Belgium also had an opportunity to break the deadlock and would probably have scored through a Tessa Wullaert in-swinging corner had Jill Scott not headed the danger away.
Carney proves class
Belgium were organised in defence and for most of the match were quick to close down playmaker Karen 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 to score her third international goal and followed up with five minutes remaining with a strike which completely wrong-footed Justien Odeurs thanks to the deflection.
Sampson has proved he is not afraid to make changes – tweaking the formation during this campaign and making two changes to the team which 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.