England Women won 2-0 in Belgium to finish top of their Euro 2017 qualifying group.
The Lionesses needed just a point to keep Ives Serneels’s side at bay in second – but they went one better as second-half goals by Nikita Parris and Karen Carney gave them a deserved victory.
England had already qualified for next summer’s finals, which will be staged in Netherlands, but this result ensured a sixth consecutive qualifying campaign in which they have avoided defeat. They last lost a competitive qualifier in November 2002.
Belgium 0-2 England
UEFA Women's Euro 2017
Group 7 qualifier
Tuesday 20 September
Den Dreef, Leuven, Belgium
Head coach Mark Sampson made two changes from the team that defeated Estonia 5-0 last Thursday with Karen Bardsley replacing Siobhan Chamberlain in goal and Gilly Flaherty coming in for Gemma Davison, a change which pushed Lucy Bronze into a right-midfield berth.
A quick free-kick by Carney led to the game’s first chance in the sixth minute, as Bronze’s cross found Manchester City club mate Jill Scott but her side-footer never troubled Justien Odeurs.
Bronze, enjoying her more advanced role, then flashed a shot just beyond the upright from a Carney corner as the visitors took control of the early proceedings.
The 24-year-old had to be vigilant at the other end, too, though, to hook away Tine de Caigny’s dangerous, bouncing through ball into the England box.
The remainder of the first half was a fairly even encounter but with neither side able to fashion any clear-cut chances.
The second half, however, began at breakneck speed.
Scott earned England a late point when these two sides met in Rotherham in April and she should have given her side the lead shortly after the interval when found by Jo Potter, but the No7 could only poke wide on the stretch.
Carney called Odeurs into action seconds later with a close-range effort which was fairly comfortable for the keeper. And at the other end, Bardsley was forced to tip a Elke van Gorp header over the bar.
The deadlock was broken on 65 minutes – with Carney and Scott involved once more.
When Carney’s corner was half-cleared, Scott picked up the loose ball and gave her team-mate another opportunity to get a good cross into the box. ‘The Wizard’ obliged.
A clever lollipop bamboozled Aline Zeler and gave Carney a yard of space to dink the ball into the box where Parris headed home her third international goal with aplomb.
Belgium substitute Davina Philtjens, on for van Gorp, came close to levelling matters with an angled drive from 20 yards which zipped wide of Bardsley’s left-hand upright.
Carney put the game to bed a minute later.
She was played through the middle by Jade Moore, a half-time replacement for Danielle Carter, neatly skipped past Heleen Jaques's sliding tackle and calmly passed a shot beyond Odeurs’s dive for a goal her performance warranted.
Carney’s final act of an impressive night was to make way for debutant Millie Bright in the final minute.
Rachel Daly, on for Parris, could have put a gloss on the scoreline in added time but her low shot was well held by Odeurs.
England’s Euro preparations begin in earnest in a month’s time when they entertain France, the third-ranked team in the world, in Doncaster on Friday 21 October.
The draw for the Euro finals will take place in Rotterdam on Tuesday 8 November.
Belgium: 1 Justien Odeurs, 3 Heleen Jaques, 5 Lorca van de Putte, 6 Tine de Caigny, 7 Elke van Gorp, 9 Tessa Wullaert, 10 Aline Zeler (C), 11 Janice Cayman, 17 Lien Mermans, 20 Julie Biesmans, 22 Laura Deloose.
Substitutes: 14 Lenie Onzia for Mermans 70, 23 Elien van Wynendaele for Biesmans 76, 2 Davina Philtjens for van Gorp 76.
Substitutes not used: 12 Diede Lemey, 13 Tine Schrijvers, 15 Sara Yuceil, 19 Imke Courtois.
Head coach: Ives Serneels
England (3-5-2): 1 Karen Bardsley (Manchester City); 6 Gilly Flaherty (Chelsea), 5 Steph Houghton (capt; Manchester City), 4 Jo Potter (Notts County); 2 Lucy Bronze (Manchester City), 8 Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal), 7 Jill Scott (Manchester City), 10 Karen Carney (Chelsea), 3 Demi Stokes (Manchester City); 9 Nikita Parris (Manchester City), 11 Danielle Carter (Arsenal).
Substitutes: 15 Jade Moore (Notts County) for Carter ht, 18 Rachel Daly (Houston Dash) for Parris 77, 23 Millie Bright (Chelsea) for Carney 90.
Substitutes not used: 13 Siobhan Chamberlain (Liverpool), 12 Alex Scott (Arsenal), 16 Isobel Christiansen (Manchester City), 17 Gemma Davison (Chelsea).
Goals: Parris 65, Carney 85
Booking: Scott, Flaherty
Referee: Pernilla Larsson (SWE)