After an entertaining 5-3 victory against Australia on April 4, the U.S. Women’s National Team will play its seventh game of the “Countdown to the Cup” when it takes on Belgium for the first time on Sunday. The match on April 7 (6 p.m. PT on ESPN2) will also be the first for the WNT at Banc of California, home of LAFC. Here are five things to know about The Red Flames:
BELGIUM WOMEN’S NATIONAL TEAM ROSTER BY POSITION
GOALKEEPERS (3): 21-Nicky Evrard (FC Twente, NED), 12-Lisa Lichtfus (R. Standard de Liège), 1-Justien Odeurs (RSC Anderlecht)
DEFENDERS (6): 17-Maud Coutereels (Lille OSC, FRA), 22-Laura Deloose (RSC Anderlecht), 18-Laura De Neve (RSC Anderlecht), 4-Heleen Jaques (Fiorentina Women’s FC, ITA), 2-Davina Philtjens (Fiorentina Women’s FC (ITA), 5-Shari Van Belle (AA Gent)
MIDFIELDERS (3): 20-Julie Biesmans (Bristol City, ENG), 23-Kassandra Missipo (AA Gent), 8-Lenie Onzia (AA Gent)
FORWARDS (8): 11-Janice Cayman (Montpellier HSC, FRA), 6-Tine De Caigny (RSC Anderlecht), 13-Elena Dhont (AA Gent), 19-Chloé Vande Velde (AA Gent), 3-Ella Van Kerkhoven (RSC Anderlecht), 14-Davinia Vanmechelen (PSV Eindhoven, NED), 15-Sarah Wijnants (RSC Anderlecht), 9-Tessa Wullaert (Manchester City, ENG)
BRIGHT FUTURE AHEAD
Belgium is one of several up-and-coming European nations starting to make an impact on the world of women’s international soccer. With the Belgium MNT ranked #1 in the world, the women’s domestic league growing, and numerous players playing abroad, Belgium, despite being a small country, is making a push to move into the upper echelon of European women’s soccer.
BELGIUM BARELY MISSES WORLD CUP
Belgium fell just short of qualifying for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, finishing second in UEFA Women’s World Cup Qualifying Group 6, two points behind qualifier Italy, and earned a playoff berth. Belgium fell to Switzerland in the two-leg semifinal playoff series which ended tied 3-3 on aggregate, but Switzerland went through on away goals. Belgium tied 2-2 at home in the first leg and drew 1-1 at Switzerland in the second. In the first game, Janice Cayman scored the first goal and center back Laura De Neve scored the second. In the second leg, Tine De Caigny scored Belgium’s goal. She equalized in the 77th minute but the Red Flames could not get another goal they needed to send them to the UEFA playoff final.
BREAKING DOWN THE ROSTER
Eight players on Belgium’s roster are playing abroad, two in England, two in the Netherlands, two in Italy and two in France. Eleven of the 12 domestic players play on two clubs – RSC Anderlecht (6) and AA Gent (5) – with one player for Standard de Liège. More than half of Belgium’s roster is under 25-years old, but it’s also an experienced team with nine players with 35 or more caps, led by leading scorer Cayman, who has 34 goals in her 92 caps. Cayman played from 2009-2012 at Florida State University and played briefly with the Western New York Flash in 2016. She was also the tops scorer at the 2016 Algarve Cup with four goals.Wullaert, also a striker, has scored 39 times in 78 caps. The two most-capped defenders are Maud Coutereels (86/9) who plays with Lille in France, and Heleen Jaques (89/2) and Davina Philtjens (78/8), who both play for Fiorentina in Italy.
Belgium is unbeaten in their last 10 games (6-0-4), while keeping six clean sheets over that span. Over their 10-game unbeaten streak, Cayman has scored six goals, the most on the team. Only one other player, Davinia Vanmechelen with two, has multiple goals during this span. Goalkeeper Nicky Evrard who plays in the Netherlands with FC Twente has kept five of Red Flames’ last six clean sheets, including Belgium’s penalty shootout against Austria that earned third-place in the Cyprus Women’s Cup in March. Belgium drew Spain 1-1 in a friendly in January (Cayman scored yet again) and then finished third at the Cyprus Women’s Cup, beating Slovakia 3-0, drawing Austria 0-0, and downing Nigeria 1-0 before drawing Austria 0-0 again in the Third-Place Match, but prevailed 3-2 on PKs.