England’s 1-0 win over Belgium on Friday night is the perfect prelude to the reverse fixture on Tuesday in the UEFA Women’s Nations League, writes Sportsbeat's Milly McEvoy.
The game, which was won by a Lauren Hemp goal in the 13th minute, saw England dominate with only a little reward and threw up plenty of questions.
So here are five things we know looking ahead to Tuesday night:
The fans still love Mary
A clean sheet for Mary Earps at Manchester United last week was marred by comments from expectant fans after she was not able to meet all of them post-match.
Earps responded impressively when speaking in the build-up to Friday’s game on how the heavily pressure to meet fans’ expectations can weigh on players.
Their expectations for her on-field performances are also vast, although these are not without reason, her saves at the King Power were cheered as loudly as goals, with fans chanting her name every time she took a goal kick.
A return to where it all started.
Love this, Mary. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/HKOc6ARBJQ
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) October 27, 2023
She twice made crucial saves to first deny Belgium the opener in the ninth minute before stopping the visitors equalising 10 minutes into the second half.
While expectations on the time players can give to fans needs to be managed, it is difficult to temper supporters' admiration for their No.1 and in this instance, there is no need.
Charles impresses at left-back
Throughout the World Cup, debate over who should be play at left-back simmered. Rachel Daly was preferred by Wiegman down under, providing experience with Millie Bright and Lucy Bronze both making their way back to full fitness.
Alex Greenwood has also been a more-than-capable alternative, but Wiegman changed tack at the King Power, selecting Niamh Charles, who had played limited minutes in Australia, but had not started for England in over a year and she impressed.
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) October 27, 2023
Charles has been in good form for Chelsea operating as both a left-back and a wing-back for Emma Hayes’ side so far in the Women’s Super League, earning a Player of the Month nomination in the process.
Her work rate down the wing for England set the pace early on as she won the corner preceding the set piece the goal was scored from and continued to be a thorn in the Belgian defence’s side.
While Wiegman has plenty of options, Charles has done enough to earn another starting berth when the two teams meet again on Tuesday.
England see out a close one
After two nervy games during the opening two Nations League fixtures, this game always felt comfortable even as England had only a narrow lead.
The Lionesses had been unable to stop the Netherlands scoring a late winner last time out and they proved they can still be vulnerable to a counter-attack against Belgium, but this time the defence clicked.
It was the first clean sheet for Sarina Wiegman’s side since the nervy 0-0 draw with Nigeria during the World Cup knockout stages, a fact that the England boss said had not registered in her mind.
Wiegman’s concerns lay more with the Lionesses' output in front of goal as they scored only once from seven shots on target.
The pieces of the puzzle are slowly starting to fit into place, with Tuesday a chance to fire on all cylinders in front of goal.
Kirby’s return a delight
The cheers for Hemp’s goal and Earps’ saves were loud but there was nothing quite like the emotion that greeted Fran Kirby’s return to the pitch.
The diminutive forward saw her World Cup chances ruined with an injury picked up at the beginning of the year.
After a strong return for Chelsea in the WSL, Kirby made her first appearance for England since October 2022.
— Fran Kirby (@frankirby) October 27, 2023
Wiegman said Kirby instilled calm and that is true in several ways, on the pitch she helped the Lionesses regain control of the game after a period of Belgian dominance.
But the whole aura of the England team feels more balanced when they have a player of Kirby’s quality around it.
Walsh has time and needs time
Like Kirby, England missed Keira Walsh during the last international period so her return against Belgium was welcomed.
However, the Barcelona midfielder was still not back to her world-beating best in Leicester, with the 26-year-old struggling for rhythm.
Like the other members of the Lionesses’ midfield, Walsh could have done well to remember she often had plenty of time on the ball as she rushed to clear or set up attacking moves.
— Fran Kirby (@frankirby) October 27, 2023
A reminder must also go to those watching on that Walsh needs time. The former Manchester City star was rushed back from injury at the World Cup and it had a knock-on effect as she did not play during the last international break.
There is no doubt Walsh can get back to her best, but it does not have to come straightaway. Patience, in such cases, is a virtue.