Lionesses Olympics qualification in doubt  …after 3-2 loss to Belgium

England’s defeat in Belgium leaves qualification for the 2024 Olympic Games on behalf of Team GB in doubt after another frustrating performance and their weakness­es are now being exposed far too regularly.

The Lionesses, who reached the Women’s World Cup final in August, lost 3-2 in Leuven and sit third in their Women’s Nations League table with just two matches remaining.

It was a third defeat in five games for the European champions and concerns are increasing over their lack of ruthlessness in front of goal and the mounting number of defensive errors.

Olympic qualification is also hanging in the balance. England, as the nominated nation to qualify on behalf of Team GB, must win their Women’s Nations League group to stand a chance of reaching Paris in 2024.

Their World Cup campaign was clearly a successful one given they reached the final, but they received criticism for several underwhelming displays in Australia.

Aside from two standout performances against China in the group stages and Australia in the semi-finals, England struggled to impose themselves and often lacked creativity.

Given a clean slate in the new Women’s Nations League competi­tion this September, it was a chance for the Lionesses to showcase their true potential once again.

However, a testing 2-1 win over Scotland and a subsequent 2-1 defeat by the Netherlands did little to fill supporters with confidence before their latest defeat by Belgium.

Injuries to key players, captain Leah Williamson, and forward, Beth Mead, have no doubt that contribut­ed but England’s faults were largely of their own making once again in Leuven on Tuesday night.

England have kept just one clean sheet in seven matches and have conceded six goals in their four Women’s Nations League games.

Centre-backs, Millie Bright and Jess Carter, were caught out for Tessa Wullaert’s first goal in Leuven, before a handball from Georgia Stanway was penalised, and Wullaert scored Belgium’s winner with a penalty in the 85th minute.

Those errors, compounded by missed chances from Alessia Russo, Rachel Daly, Fran Kirby and Lucy Bronze all contributed to England’s defeat.

They had 73% possession in the match and 18 shots, but only five were on target and Belgium scored from three of their five total attempts.

On Friday, after England battled to a narrow 1-0 win, Wiegman said it was becoming “harder to score” and it was “frustrating” they were not taking advantage of the chances they were creating.

And despite the boost of play­maker Kirby’s return to the starting XI for the first time in over a year, England were still wasteful in pos­session, with Wiegman saying they were dealt a “hard lesson” for their mistakes.

It is important not to get carried away – England have still lost just four matches in total under Wieg­man but the fact two have now come in this competition against lower-ranked European opposition is a warning that issues must be addressed.

But given England’s previous success under the Dutchwoman, defender Bronze remains confident they can dig themselves out of the group stages and into the Nations League semi-finals, keeping alive their Olympic hopes. —BBC

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