After the dream of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Switzerland faded away 15 months ago, the red flames in Belgium were dead on their feet. Feeling frustrated at missed opportunities, they had missed one of their best ways to reach the biggest leg of women’s football to date.
But what didn’t kill her made her stronger. That is the view of Captain Tessa Wullaert. She believes that her team has developed since that heartbreak and is looking for two consecutive UEFA women’s championships – with the Swiss as their main competitor to contest.
It is difficult to argue with her. Since dropping out of the 2019 play-offs in France due to away goals, they have only lost once – against the future champions USA – and scored 31 goals in their 12 other games. Even though they missed the world final, they are 17th in the FIFA / Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking.
“It was disappointing,” said Wullaert “but it has given us a whole year where we haven’t played for anything, so you have time to try new things.” It was actually really good. “
Red Flames’ all-time top scorer with 42 goals.
Has won three of the last four Belgian Golden shoes, including the latest.
On a run of winning at least one domestic trophy in each of the last seven seasons.
When they sit down with a sports psychologist, focus on team building, and get the squad to speak openly about how to develop, they prepare for a challenging six weeks – and their first games in 2020 – in a positive state of mind in front. If these open communication channels had not been there, it might have been an easier start.
“We usually take part in the Cyprus Cup, but that tends to have more games in which we have the ball. In April [against Switzerland] it will be 50/50, so we will take part in the Algarve Cup because there are tougher games there.
“We discussed this with the trainer. As a captain, I speak a lot with our trainer Ives Serneels. He’s been there since I started, so we both had our ups and downs together, so he listens to me sometimes. “
Serneels had been at the helm of the Red Flames in less than six months in his nine-year tenure when he made his debut for 17-year-old Wullaert. After being frustrated at not being given the chance earlier – “I felt ready” – she duly paid him back by bringing the winner against Russia.
But her talent was not a big shock to someone who had paid attention to the teenager. “I played with the boys one level below the national level (provincial level), it was really funny [laughs]. I don’t think it has ever happened before. I only played for fun and did my best. It wasn’t even a dream to become a professional soccer player because I never knew there was. “
However, six years after her first goal in red, she had scored more goals than anyone else (accidentally breaking the record against Russia), which made her a little puzzled. “I didn’t even know it was the record! I said,” I broke it, wow! What did the other girls do since I was only 23 ?! “Well, it was really fun for me, but it was cool at the same time. “
The Manchester City star is a bit defensive because he has only added 16 more in the past four years. “Maybe I should work on it! When I started I was a striker who always wanted to score but now my game has changed a bit. If you counted my templates as goals, I would have much more! “
As the team’s hit rate shows, scoring goals is not difficult, as Wullaert is now at the forefront of creative tasks, but her trigger-happy habit is not easy for the larger teams.
With every team in the Algarve among the top 31 – including Germany and Sweden – the former Wolfsburg striker hopes this year of growth that they will develop a new self-confidence.
“When it comes to bigger games, we have to work on having the same confidence in playing and wanting the ball. I’m sure if we play our game against Switzerland and have that confidence, we can beat them. “
It would be a victory that would help heal the wound in the Alps in 2018.