Hot under the collar
Seen as a derby between the two nations the feisty history of the tie was quickly reflected on the pitch, both teams willing to get in each other’s faces, a casual reminder that friendlies don’t always have to be amicable. Niggly fouls allowing for dangerous free kicks, Kika van Es’ late challenge on Davina Philtjens giving the hosts a good chance to whip the ball into the box as they continued to grow into the game.
The cross in enough to draw Sari van Veenendaal out but the ball cleared and returned to the keeper’s grateful grasps before Arsenal teammate Daniëlle van de Donk went down under challenge of Aline Zeler. Merel van Dongen’s free kick slammed into the wall as both teams continued to wrestle for dominance, the visitors shading the possession working their hosts more out wide.
Justien Odeurs called into action to go low and grab van Dongen’s stooping header, the defender connecting well with Renée Slegers’ deep free kick. A corner enough to break the deadlock at the midway point of the first-half, Janice Cayman left red-faced as the ball skimmed off of her shin and past Odeurs, pressure from Mandy van den Berg evident in the miss-cue. It took just seconds for the Red Flames to carve out a chance to restore parity, Tessa Wullaert’s corner delivery working through to Jana Coryn at the near post, the attackers deft header curling onto the top of the net.
Red Flames turn the heat up
The match was bitty, the visitors on top but neither side with real purchase in the game, a lack of rhythm across the pitch a stumbling block for any attacks that bore weight. With Holland starting to knock at the door to double their advantage the hosts broke, Coryn’s determined run through the middle saw her eat up the pitch, nipping past and round the midfield a well weighted lay-off found Wullaert. The Wolfsburg attacker had green grass ahead of her as she chased the pass down, a less than silky touch took the ball a roll or two too deep but Wullaert recovered to well to loop her cross to the back-post for Philtjens to run onto, in behind van Es to send her header back across van Veenendaal’s goal and level the scores.
The move was the best of the night from either side the in first-half and it rightfully paid off, football kept simple but fruitful, that kind of following move not a feature for the first 45 minutes. Both teams happy to nick and niggle their way through on a cold night just east of Brussels.
The visitors started the second-half brightly, pinging the ball around outside the box, Tessel Middag’s hopeful drive from 20 yards inexplicably catching Odeurs out, the keeper clutching at air as the ball sailed through her gloves after bobbling off of the surface. The Jena shot-stopper redeaming herself minutes later as she gathered Ellen Jasen’s headed effort, a routine save to re-steady the nerves. Holland hungry for a third but still struggling with working as one team instead of individuals with their own ideas.
The match wore on, Arjan van der Laan plucking more and more talent off of the Netherlands bench as the Oranje looked to impose their superiority on the game but continued to labour with fluidity. Their wasted chances and possession telling as the hosts once more pulled a goal back to equalise, never fully out of the game, the Red Flames capitalised on another set piece.
Lenie Onzia’s knock on just right for Cayman who found herself in acres of space between the spot and goal line, sweeping the ball low as she turned on the spot both sets of fans protesting as Middag cleared the ball off of the line, an arm in the mix to set it back to van Veenendaal. The assistant’s flag lofted to signal the goal, the ball adjudged to have fully crossed before being cleared, unexpected parity.
The onus was suddenly with the hosts, Ives Serneels using his bench wisely, experienced Maud Coutereels with fresh legs and the desire to run at the backline leaving the visitors uncertain at the back. The Red Flames continued to attack as they had all night but continued to refuse to commit numbers, red always cancelled out by blue as Wullaert or Cayman looked to get beyond the experienced defence but coming up short.
With less than ten minutes left the hosts started to look leggy, their opposition arguably still fresh, more gaps opening up at the back as Jansen drove one low, Odeurs unable to get a fingertip on the ball at full stretch, the keeper happy to see the effort slip just wide of the post.
The young shot stopper back in action minutes later to grab Jill Roord’s snapshot from close range, the game well open but possession stats favouring the visitors as the Red Flames finally got forward in numbers, Cayman’s low shot blocked en route.
With barely any time left it looked as if they was to be a winner it would be the Netherlands, the away side beginning to rattle the door handle as the hosts did all they could to repel their advances. A late break saw Wullaert dash into the box with the ball, one touch then a second to shift the ball between her boots, looking for the space around Kelly Zeeman, trying to pick her moment.
The midfielder from Ajax too rash as she tried to get back and nip the ball away, catching the attacker with enough to send her sprawling to the ground, the up-shot a yellow for Zeeman and a penalty for the hosts. Captain and most experienced Red Flame on the pitch Zeler tasked with dispatching the spot kick in front of the home crowd, van Veenendaal went left as Zeler sent the ball right, the stadium exploding with noise.
Despite their best efforts and a healthy chunk of stoppage time the visiting Dutch couldn’t do as the Belgians had a find an equaliser, bragging rights to the hosts, a bitter loss for the visitors and both manager with huge work still to do before next Summer’s European Championships.