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Northern Ireland's superb UEFA Women's EURO 2013 qualifying run continued on Wednesday night and Alexandra Hurst praised her side's fighting spirit after they equalised twice to draw 2-2 with Belgium in Dessel.
It seemed second-placed Belgium's three-point advantage over Northern Ireland – who stunned Norway 3-1 in November – would increase when Aline Zeler struck just before the break and then, after substitute Catherine O'Hagan had levelled, Tessa Wullaert restored Belgium's advantage, but with seven minutes left Julie Nelson ensured Alfie Wylie's visitors a point.
It felt like a victory after the amount of effort we put in," Hurst told UEFA.com. "It was a big knock to go 2-1 down, but we pulled together, really dug deep and got a great result against a team who's higher in the group and higher seeded."
Judging by the whoops of delight emanating from her side as they came down the tunnel, this was definitely a case of gaining a point rather than dropping two. "It's the pride of the Green," the 17-year-old right-back continued. "We've learned to keep fighting to the end, and we've worked on our fitness and condition so we can stir it up a bit with the big teams. We have a strong work ethic and if the ball's there to be won we go in 100%."
Nelson, meanwhile, smiled when asked if her equalising free-kick from out wide on the left was intended as a shot or a cross. "I've always been told that if you aim for the back post it has a chance of curling in, so thankfully for me it worked out that way," she said.
The 26-year-old defender also acknowledged the boisterous Northern Ireland support – a dozen or so diehards who spent most of the match chanting "Alfie Wylie's green-and-white army". Nelson said: "We're very thankful that they travelled here to support us, we could definitely hear them from the pitch."
By contrast, the mood in the Belgian camp was understandably a little less buoyant, yet far from downbeat, as they are now within two points of their next visitors, Group 3 leaders Iceland. "We were ahead twice and gave away a dumb second goal, but on the other hand it was a great match for the spectators – four goals and plenty of action," said striker Zeler. "I'm the oldest player in our team, which is maybe why when I got the chance to break the deadlock I didn't panic."
The 28-year-old was joined on the scoresheet by her side's youngest member, Wullaert. "In the first half we were still getting used to the pitch, we hadn't been able to train on it beforehand," said the 18-year-old attacker. "It was heavy because it had been raining all day.
By the end of the first half and thereafter we played much better, which makes it all the more galling that we gave away the second goal so late.
"At that point I thought it was more likely to be 3-1 than 2-2," continued the Dames Zulte Waragem player. "But these things happen, and we still have the belief we can win the group."
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