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Belgium hold firm to top England

Hosts Belgium topped Group 6 on goal difference after a 0-0 draw with England, who did not concede in the mini-tournament and are in a strong position to also go through.

Belgium topped the group on home soil
Belgium topped the group on home soil ©UEFA.com

Belgium are through to the UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship second qualifying round, pipping England on goal difference after a 0-0 draw in Aalst.

Both teams had both gone into the first qualifying round Group 6 decider with 100% records, but hosts Belgium began knowing a point would do, their superior goal difference coming courtesy of a 3-0 win over Turkey beating England's tally by one. Both teams overpowered Armenia 7-0. England may have missed out on top spot but they are in a strong position to go through as one of the five runners-up in the ten groups with the best record against the sides first and third in their section.

England had the lion's share of possession in the first half of the decider, but a solitary Meaghan Sargeant effort which Belgian goalkeeper Nicky Evrard saved well was the only fruit of their endeavours. Belgium, whilst content to sit back and hit their opponents on the counterattack, began to look increasingly dangerous in the second half.

For all the visitors' possession, it was the hosts who carved out the clearest chances. First, a Lucinda Michez half-volley had Jasmine Elliot scrambling to parry for a corner. Deep into injury time Anne Muni rattled a long-range shot off the bar and Michez came agonisingly close to scoring from the rebound, this time the post coming to England's rescue.

Belgium coach Joëlle Piron was suitably delighted with the outcome. "We have to be happy with first place," she said. "I feel we deserve it. We've had a very good tournament."

Piron, however, admitted that England had surprised her. "England were better than we expected, stronger than they were against Turkey; they were very well organised. The first half was very difficult, we were under pressure. In the second half we closed down space better and waited to hit England on the counterattack. We could have won it right at the death, the two shots off the bar and post. How the ball stayed out I'll never know."

Lois Fidler, aiming to match her feat of 2007/08 when she managed England to the inaugural finals, said: "All credit to the Belgians. We let them back into it. They took the game to us in the second half and it was hold-your-breath time at the end. Belgium had the creativity that we lacked. We need to work on turning possession into goals."

Fidler still praised her team's efforts. "We've put into practice what we've done on the training pitch," she said. "We've shown great attitude and commitment. The girls are absolutely gutted; it's tough when you haven't lost a game or let in a goal yet you still aren't sure of going through."