England - Belgium - Preview: Lionesses striving for perfect qualification campaign

Mark Sampson's side face their biggest threat in Group 7 when they welcome the Red Flames to Rotherham United's New York Stadium this Friday.

England - Belgium - Preview: Lionesses striving for perfect qualification campaign
England are looking to maintain their 100 per cent record in qualifying so far with a win over Belgium. (Photo: Jonny Walsh/VAVEL UK)

England Women face their toughest test yet in qualifying for Euro 2017 this week as they prepare to play hosts to Belgium on Friday.

It hasn't all been smooth sailing for the Lionesses so far, with them having to deal with opponents setting up to play for the point, but the Red Flames are expected to be a lot more adventurous than other Group 7 opponents.

The Belgians currently top the group having played more games than England, but a win for the Lionesses in this fixture will take them to the summit where they will feel they can stay for the remainder of qualifying.

Two horse race

England are more than expected to win this group, but Belgium do pose a considerable threat to their aim to do so.

The Red Flames have some talented youngsters coming through who have shone in their own qualifying campaign so far, helping them to two big wins over Bosnia & Herzegovina

However, their inexperience was perhaps exploited by Serbia last time out, who held them to a 1-1 draw and put their status as pacesetters in jeopardy.

That status is now England's for the taking and they will be relishing this fixture as a result. On top of that, they will be excited to play a team who will not just play for the point, having grown frustrated at that in their narrow 1-0 win over Bosnia.

Their only other game in qualifying so far was a largely contrasting result in Estonia, where they were 8-0 victors back in September. 

Jill Scott celebrates with teammates after giving England their latest win in qualifying over Bosnia. (Photo: The Guardian)
Jill Scott celebrates with teammates after giving England their latest win in qualifying over Bosnia. (Photo: The Guardian)

Team news

Both sides have been forced into make changes to their squads for this game, with injuries preventing them from picking the same players that they did for friendlies last month.

England are without striker Jodie Taylor, recently signed by Arsenal, defender Claire Rafferty and midfielder Isobel Christiansen because of injuries, while Siobhan Chamberlain has picked up a slight knock that forced her to withdraw from the initially announced squad.

Jo Potter, Amy Turner and Ellen White return to the fold, and Sunderland's Rachael Laws has replaced Chamberlain to provide back-up to first choice stopper Karen Bardsley.

Belgium's only injury concern has been Elke van Gorp, whereas Silke Demeyere and Laura De Neve have missed the cut despite being involved in the Algarve Cup in March. Teenage goalkeeper Diede Lemey, yet to earn her first cap, comes in as a result, as does forward Sara Yüceil.

The opposition

Though they have never qualified for a major competition, Belgium should not be taken lightly by England.

The team have some incredibly talented players coming through, with Tessa Wullaert their stand-out threat. Despite being just 23-years-old, the attacker has already become her nation's joint-top goal-scorer after bagging 25 goals in 37 caps - the same amount that 32-year-old captain Aline Zeler has managed in her 70 appearances for the Red Flames.

She's managed four goals in just five starts for Frauen-Bundesliga giants VfL Wolfsburg this season too, and will have to be tightly marked by England's back line.

Wullaert is one of few players in this Belgian team plying her trade abroad, with just four more of the 22 selected doing so. Janice Cayman and Lorca van de Putte bring key top level experience to the back line, playing their club football in France's Division 1 Feminine and Sweden's Damallsvenskan respectively; experience which will be key in thwarting a talented England attack.

The rest of the squad, meanwhile, is relatively inexperienced - with an average age of just 24 and as many caps apiece - and the Lionesses will be looking to exploit that on Friday evening, with kick off at Rotherham United's New York Stadium scheduled for 19:55BST.