A penalty from Nikita Parris rescued England as they fought out a 3-3 draw with Belgium in their women’s international friendly in Leuven.
The Lionesses looked to be cruising when goals from Jodie Taylor and Beth Mead put them 2-0 up at Den Dreef Stadium, but Phil Neville’s team then crumbled as the home side turned the match on its head with a brace from Ella Van Kerkhoven following Heleen Jaques’ strike.
But World Cup semi-finalists England were gifted a lifeline when Parris scored from the spot after a needless handball 15 minutes from time.
Lyon striker Parris had the first sight of goal for either side after 16 minutes but failed to make the most of Demi Stokes’ inviting cross and directed her header straight at goalkeeper Nicky Evrard.
However, England were in front six minutes later thanks to Taylor. On the counter-attack, Georgia Stanway threaded the perfect ball through to the onrushing striker, who scored with a delightful chip over Evrard.
The Lionesses then found themselves further ahead after 26 minutes. An initial shot from Taylor was weakly palmed away by Evrard and Arsenal forward Mead was on hand to stab home goal number two.
Steph Houghton was unlucky not to deliver a third minutes later when her low free-kick came back off the left post, and it was a moment that would come back to haunt England as Belgium took control.
The deficit was halved after 38 minutes with a little help from the unfortunate Carly Telford.
Lucy Bronze, who had been named UEFA Women’s Player of the Year earlier on Thursday, looked to have saved England when she cleared Tine De Caigny’s header off the line, but Jaques stabbed the rebound goalwards, with the ball bouncing off the back of the England keeper’s head and past Bronze into the net.
And Belgium were back on level terms with the last action of the first half as Van Kerkhoven met a cross from the left with a stooping header.
England’s confidence had suffered a blow and they came close to conceding a third after the restart but Janice Cayman’s attempts to curl a shot into the left corner fell narrowly wide.
Taylor tried her hardest to edge the Lionesses back in front after 49 minutes but was narrowly beaten to the ball by Evrard after the Belgium keeper had parried Stanway’s effort.
And the home side took full advantage of the let-off when they claimed the lead after 55 minutes following some woeful defending. A ball into the area was picked up by De Caigny but nerves took hold of Houghton, who cleared straight to Van Kerkhoven to smash the ball home.
Neville cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines as he watched his team seemingly implode, but they were gifted an equaliser after 74 minutes thanks to Cayman’s blatant handball. Parris stepped up to take the resulting penalty and confidently slammed the ball into the roof of the net.
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