Northern Ireland will be facing “a very good team” in their final game before they embark on their UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 adventure, according to manager Kenny Shiels.
Belgium, known as the Red Flames, are hosting Shiels’ side in a friendly at the Herman Vanderpoorten Stadion in Lier tonight (7 o’clock start, BST). And the game is being streamed live by BBC Sport NI.
Like Northern Ireland, the Belgians will be in a tough group at the Euros in England next month. They are set to come up against France, Italy and Iceland in Group D.
Shiels believes the girls in green and white, who are due to face England, Norway and Austria in Group A at the 16-team tournament, will learn a lot from taking on Belgium, who are ranked 19th in the world compared to his team’s ranking of 47th.
He told media yesterday that he is not unduly concerned about what the result might be tonight. Instead he wants his players to get to grips with the intensity of the game and to go out and match their opponents in what will be his team’s final warm-up game before the Euros, which kick off on 6 July.
"Our players have been out of match condition for a while, so we want to make sure that they get proper conditioning in a really competitive game,” he noted.
Although the Belgians lost 3-0 to England in a friendly in Wolverhampton last week, Shiels said he was impressed how the Red Flames took the game to their opponents. And he expects them to have a real go tonight in front of their home crowd. Just over 1,000 fans are expected to attend the match at the 14,500-capacity stadium in Lier.
He further said Belgium are “a very good team” who were unlucky to lose to England at Molineux.
The Northern Ireland manager revealed captain Marissa Callaghan, who is in the final stages of recovery from a toe injury, will not be involved tonight. However, the other 23 members of his panel are fit and raring to go against Ives Serneels’ side.
Most of the players in the Belgian squad play their club football in their country’s top flight, for the likes of Anderlecht, Leuven and Club YLA (Brugge). However, their star performers operate in France, Germany, Netherlands and Italy.
Experienced Lyon midfielder Janice Cayman has 124 caps and 47 international goals to her name, while Hoffenheim midfielder Tine De Caigny has scored 37 times in 73 appearances for the Red Flames.
Striker Tessa Wullaert, who plays in the Dutch top flight for Fortuna Sittard, has won 107 caps, scoring an impressive 65 goals along the way, and experienced defender Davina Philtjens, who is on the books of Italian side Sassuolo, has grabbed 10 goals during her 106 international appearances. Midfielder Justine Vanhaevermaet, who stars for WSL side Reading, is a solid operator, too.
Like Northern Ireland, their experienced spine is supplemented by some exciting younger players, including 23-year-old Anderlecht midfielder Marie Minnaert and Leuven striker Hannah Eurlings, who is 19.