By Peter Bruun
Denmark have sealed their place in next year's UEFA European Women's Championship, after Merete Pedersen scored a hat-trick inside the opening 15 minutes to put her side on course for a comprehensive 6-0 win against Belgium in Aalborg.
Spurred on by over 2,000 fans, Poul Højmose's side dominated from the kick-off, taking the lead after just six minutes when Merete Pedersen headed in. She was on target again five minutes later, this time converting a left-wing cross, and completed her hat-trick in just 14 minutes after latching on to Stine Kjær Jensen's through-ball.
Belgium have scored just five goals so far in their qualifying matches, and it was unlikely they would be able to respond to Denmark's dazzling start. Indeed, although Denmark noticeably eased down after the third goal, they still continued to dominate, creating chance after chance and winning the aerial battles. After 29 minutes, captain Katrine Pedersen headed in a Janne Madsen free-kick to further extend the lead.
Madsen and Eggers had further chances, and the latter also had a goal disallowed for off-side, but the score remained 4-0 at the interval. However, an invigorated Belgium emerged for the second half full of attacking intentions. Eight minutes later and the visitors had their best chance of the game, when Femke Maes - who scored her side's only goal in the 6-1 defeat by Denmark earlier in qualifying - sent a low drive narrowly wide. The Danes, though, soon regained the initiative.
Six of the best
Merete Pedersen almost made it five but failed to keep her shot down, before Eggers, making her 75th international appearance, scored the goal her harrying performance had warranted after 68 minutes. Merete Pedersen then grabbed her fourth and Denmark's sixth with four minutes of the game remaining.
The result leaves Poul Højmose's side in an unassailable lead in Group 2, and they will qualify for next year's final tournament in England regardless of Wednesday's result against the Netherlands. Belgium were already confirmed in bottom place before today and face a play-off to avoid relegation from the top four groups.
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