Football: England Women v Belgium Women preview
England Women step up their preparations for the European Championship 2022 with a friendly international against Belgium Women at Molineux on Thursday.
The Lionesses are bidding to go one better than the England men's team managed last summer by winning the Euros on home soil and the clash with the Belgians is the first of three warm-up games for Sarina Wiegman's side before the tournament starts on 6th July.
What: England Women v Belgium Women
Where: Molineux, Wolverhampton
When: 20:00, Thursday 16th June 2022
How to watch: ITV4
Gareth Southgate's Three Lions benefited from home advantage, reaching the Euro 2020 final before losing on penalties to Italy at Wembley, and tournament hosts England Women are rated as serious title contenders this time around.
They are 1.66 to lift the trophy, but the top of the market is extremely congested with Spain 12122.00, France 12122.00 and the Netherlands - the defending champions - at 12122.00.
The Dutch triumphed at the 2017 Euros, which they hosted, beating England 3-0 in the semi-finals, before a 4-2 victory over Denmark in the final and that ended Germany's stranglehold on the European Championship crown.
The Germans, who won six titles in a row between 1995 and 2013, are 2.10 to come out on top at the 2022 tournament while the Danes, runners-up five years ago, are 201.00 shots.
England have never won the Euros, finishing as runners-up in the inaugural edition in 1984 and losing to Germany in the 2009 final in Finland, but hopes are high that they can break their duck this summer.
Veteran Houghton scrapping for finals spot
England manager Wiegman has named a 28-strong provisional squad for the Euros which will be whittled down to 23 players by the start of the tournament and the Lionesses look in good shape going into their warm-up fixtures.
Manchester City defender Alex Greenwood left the training camp due to illness last week and may not be risked for the Belgium game, but England have no other fresh fitness concerns.
There is no shortage of experience in a group including midfielder Jill Scott - whose tally of 156 England caps is second only to Fara Williams - 121-cap defender Steph Houghton and striker Ellen White, England's record scorer with 50 international goals.
Former captain Houghton's fitness is under scrutiny as she has not played since January due to an Achilles injury.
The Man City defender has been back in training in the build-up to the Belgium friendly, but is not guaranteed to make the final squad for the Euros with new skipper Leah Williamson, Millie Bright, Lotte Wubben-Moy, Jess Carter and Greenwood also jostling for places at centre-back.
Opponents Belgium are 17.00 to top Group D, in which they face France, Italy and Iceland, so England may use Thursday's friendly as a chance to experiment with tactics and personnel.
Wiegman's side will continue their pre-tournament schedule with fixtures against the Netherlands at Elland Road on 24th June and Switzerland in Zurich on 30th June.
England are 1.00 to win Group A at the Euros, with Norway expected to be the main dangers at 12122.00. The Lionesses start their campaign at Old Trafford on 6th July against Austria, who are 12122.00 to top the section, while Northern Ireland are 251.00 outsiders in the group.
England forwards eager to impress
England are expected to beat Belgium at Molineux on Thursday and they showed their ruthlessness during the most recent international window in April, when they thumped North Macedonia 10-0 and Northern Ireland 5-0 in qualifying for the 2023 World Cup.
Arsenal's Beth Mead scored four times in the rout of North Macedonia, while Manchester United youngster Ella Toone followed up her hat-trick in that win with another goal against Northern Ireland.
Georgia Stanway, whose move from Man City to Bayern Munich was confirmed at the end of the Women's Super League season last month, scored twice in each of the April victories and there is fierce competition for places in England's attacking unit.
The Lionesses mauled Luxembourg 10-0 and beat Latvia 10-0 and 20-0 in World Cup qualifiers last autumn although Belgium have been in fine form themselves recently.
The visitors racked up 5-0 and 6-1 qualifying wins over Albania and Kosovo in April, with Fortuna Sittard striker Tessa Wullaert scoring six times in those two matches.
That extended Wullaert's impressive international record to 65 goals in 106 appearances and 25-year-old Hoffenheim forward Tine De Caigny, who has scored first in three of Belgium's last six matches, is another threat.
Ives Serneels' side thrashed Armenia 19-0 in a World Cup qualifier last November and have conceded only one goal in their last seven matches.
The last meeting between these teams was a 3-3 friendly draw in August 2019 but England will want a good performance and a positive result in the first of three important warm-up fixtures before they begin their bid for European glory.