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Northern Ireland are in for a stern test against the brilliant Belgians, warns Linfield boss Phil Lewis ahead of friendly clash


Georgia Stanway of England challenges Belgium ace Tine de Caigny, who will be out to shoot down NI

Georgia Stanway of England challenges Belgium ace Tine de Caigny, who will be out to shoot down NI

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Georgia Stanway of England challenges Belgium ace Tine de Caigny, who will be out to shoot down NI

Northern Ireland should be prepared for a “real test” from Belgium’s talent-laden attack tomorrow in their final game ahead of the Women’s Euro 2022 finals, according to a man who is only too well aware of the goal threat the Red Flames possess.

The Belgians boast two of Europe’s leading strikers in their squad. Tine de Caigny smashed home 12 goals in eight games to come out as the top scorer in the Euro qualifiers and Tessa Wullaert, who currently leads the way in World Cup qualifying with 15 goals in just seven outings, counts two Women’s Champions League medals among the honours won with clubs in three different countries.

Linfield Ladies manager Phil Lewis saw both at close quarters just 18 months ago when the Blues faced Belgium’s leading club side Anderlecht in the Champions League.

The Linfield defence that night in Brussels contained Ashley Hutton and Kelsie Burrows, who are both in the Northern Ireland squad and will be pushing for a starting spot in Kenny Shiels’ team — as well as those two, Abbie Magee had played when the teams met a year earlier — but even they found the threat of De Caigny and Wullaert too hot to handle, with both scoring twice as the outclassed Blues were beaten 8-0 in September 2020.

“Anderlecht’s squad was full of internationals,” recalled Lewis.

“We analysed the whole team, Di Caigny in particular. Wullaert had just moved back to Anderlecht after being at Manchester City — which shows you the level she is at — and she scores goals for fun.

“I saw their game against England last week and they played both of them through the middle.

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“Wullaert is very quick, she played off the right against us in a 4-3-3 and she was very, very quick, could score goals and read the game well.

“Di Caigny is a big, strong runner and we found her very difficult to contain.

“It was interesting that she played through the middle against England and she will stretch the Northern Ireland centre-halves if they play that way again.

“She moved on to Germany, which is something you would expect from the top Belgian players who want to push on.”


Linfield boss Phil Lewis

Linfield boss Phil Lewis

Linfield boss Phil Lewis

Northern Ireland will face the might of former Women’s Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg and Barcelona star Caroline Graham Hansen in their opening game at the finals and then England’s record goalscorer Ellen White in the final group stage game.

Although Shiels’ defence kept White quiet in both World Cup qualifiers over the last nine months, England have plenty of others capable of finding the net as Northern Ireland found when Beth Mead scored a hat-trick at Wembley before Lauren Hemp and Georgia Stanway each scored twice in their 5-0 win at Windsor Park in April.

“This is perfect preparation for the Northern Ireland girls,” said Lewis.

“Belgium will give them a real test and a very similar test to what they will get against Norway and England and they will already know what Austria have got from playing against them.

“Norway will be very strong, as well as their two world-class strikers they have Guro Reiten who went to Chelsea.

“We did a lot of work on her before we played Kvinner in 2019, but she moved a week before we played them — which we were thankful for.”

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