England retain Arnold Clark Cup after convincing win over Belgium
Chloe Kelly and skipper Leah Williamson notched a brace apiece as England completed a successful defence of the Arnold Clark Cup by thrashing Belgium 6-1 at Ashton Gate.
Needing only to avoid defeat to retain the trophy, the Lionesses took the lead via Kelly in the 12th minute following good work by Lauren James, before Williamson’s header doubled the advantage just prior to the break.
Kelly then put dominant England three goals up five minutes into the second half, making the most of the opportunity when goalkeeper Nicky Evrard spilled Ella Toone’s shot.
While the Manchester City forward, England’s match-winner in last summer’s Euros final, fell just short of a hat-trick, seeing a further effort clip the bar, she ends up as the tournament’s leading scorer with three goals.
There was also a 78th-minute Julie Biesmans own goal, and late finishes from Lucy Bronze and Williamson, either side of Elena Dhont’s reply for Belgium, as England made it three wins from three outings in the round-robin tournament and 25 in 29 games unbeaten overall under Sarina Wiegman.
They finish three points clear of the Belgians at the top of the final Arnold Clark Cup table, with Italy third after beating South Korea 2-1 in Wednesday’s earlier match at the Bristol stadium.
Having kicked off the calendar year in fine style, the European champions will next be in action in April with clashes against Brazil at Wembley and Australia in Brentford as preparations continue ahead of the summer’s World Cup.
The tournament in Australia and New Zealand starts on July 20 and sees England in Group D with China, Denmark and Haiti, who secured their place with a 2-1 play-off victory over Chile on Wednesday.
After making nine changes for Sunday’s 2-1 win over Italy, Wiegman named almost the same XI that had started the 4-0 victory against South Korea last Thursday, with the only difference being Keira Walsh featuring instead of Jess Carter.
Early pressure from England included Georgia Stanway shooting wide in the second minute, and James and Kelly sending efforts off-target from good positions.
The latter pair then combined to put the hosts in front, James going past three players as she cut in from the right and dribbled into the box, her cross coming off Biesmans, and Kelly firing in on the line.
As England continued to boss possession against world number 20-ranked Belgium – Euro 2022 quarter-finalists who did not qualify for the forthcoming World Cup – a header from Millie Bright and a James strike went over the bar.
The advantage was then doubled in the 42nd minute when Williamson headed home from Bronze’s delivery – it looked as if Alessia Russo may have handled in the build-up, but the effort was given and there was no VAR to review the incident.
The interval brought little change in terms of the one-way traffic, with England adding a third within a few minutes of the second half getting under way as Evrard’s attempt to grab Toone’s shot presented the ball to Kelly, who tucked home.
And Kelly was then unlucky not to make it a treble as her shot was just too high, touching the crossbar on its way.
A fourth goal for Wiegman’s side subsequently arrived when substitute Stanway’s low ball was diverted into her own net by Biesmans, and Bronze added number five with a close-range finish in the 89th minute.
Belgium then grabbed a goal thanks to a wonderful strike from the edge of the box by substitute Dhont, before England completed the scoring through Williamson’s low drilled shot.