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‘Shocking’ Euro 2022 terrain draws criticism as Belgium set to play in front of just 4,000 fans

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Players and coaches have described the relatively small site chosen for the tournament as an indication of the “disrespect” shown to women’s football

After Thursday night’s 3-0 defeat by England in Molineux, Ives Serneels admitted he understood why others had expressed concerns about the tournament’s venues.

Belgium’s manager said it was a “too bad” that his side will be playing next month’s European Championship at Manchester City’s Academy Stadium.

“I can understand that [not being happy],” he said. “If you want to organize a big tournament like here in England, I also have some questions.

“[The Academy Stadium] is a nice field, that’s the most important thing for me, but I think if you could have sold maybe 10-12,000 tickets, it’s a shame that we have to play in a stadium with four, five, six thousand.”

Belgium, who are in a group with Italy, Iceland and France, will play two games at Rotherham United’s Academy Stadium and one at New York Stadium.

Due to Uefa rules not allowing fans to stand at their competitions, the Academy Stadium – which is normally split into 5,000 seats and 2,000 standing – will be limited to just 4,000.

In April, Iceland captain Sara Björk Gunnarsdottir criticized the playing of games at the venue, which is home to Man City’s women’s and youth teams.

“It’s shocking – we’re playing a tournament in England with several big arenas and we’re playing in a training facility that holds around 5,000 spectators,” she told the women’s football podcast your pitch.

“It’s just embarrassing and it’s not the respect we deserve. They didn’t prepare for the fact that we can sell more than 4,000, that’s disrespectful to women’s football.”

With a home European Championship now less than three weeks away, the Lionesses defeated Belgium in the first of three warm-up games. Here’s what we learned about Sarina Wiegman’s side after the win at Wolverhampton.

England is still going strong

The quality needs to improve in time for this summer’s tournament but there were promising looks from England throughout the game.

Lauren Hemp, Beth Mead and Leah Williamson all excelled in their respective roles and brought a special dynamic to England’s attacking line.

Occasionally some wobble was still present and Belgium managed to drill holes that will have to be gouged out by July.

Williamson well suited for midfield

Leah Williamson’s role under Sarina Wiegman is light years away from what it was in previous England teams. Now captain of the side, she has combined her authoritarian defensive stature with her ballplaying ability to transform herself into a crucial midfielder.

Williamson has shown in recent games that she is better used in this position. Her precise ball to Lauren Hemp in the first half was irrefutable proof that her skills are wasted when used in the Lionesses’ defence. Her new role, effortlessly spraying the ball across the pitch on Thursday night, could bring that cutting edge this summer.

Mead settles into the front line

Set your clocks back 12 months and you’re in an era where a national team manager thought Beth Mead wouldn’t make it.

She missed Hege Riise’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic team but is now one of the safest starters in the squad. Her form at Arsenal was in a class of her own this season; now this also applies to their country.

No Houghton, no problem

When Wiegman decided against picking former captain Steph Houghton for her last EURO squad, it marked the end of an era; a player with 121 caps and five major tournaments under her belt who is no longer present.

The defense seems to be doing just fine without them and the second-half combination of Millie Bright and Alex Greenwood clearly has few flaws compared to the old defense.

Belgium, who are ranked No. 20 in the world, are of a similar caliber to Austria at No. 21, who play in England’s group in the summer. This was an achievement that boded particularly well.

Shooting needs sharpening

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