Youngsters get chance to shine but early error is costly for shot-shy Ireland
Belgium 1 Ireland 0
A first-half strike from Elena Dhont saw Ireland fall to a defeat in a friendly in Spain.
A strong Belgian side netted their first chance of the game through Dhont in the 16th minute as despite having plenty of possession, Colin Bell's young outfit failed to find the net.
Bell handed a senior international debut to 16-year-old striker Emily Kraft and a first start to Shelbourne winger Isibeal Atkinson. He also welcomed Megan Connolly and Harriet Scott back into the starting line-up for the first fixture of 2019.
Belgium struggled to break down Ireland throughout the 90 minutes, having claimed an impressive 1-1 draw against Spain last Thursday evening. Unfortunately, Ireland gave Belgium the perfect opportunity to take the lead when they failed to play it out from the back and Dhont capitalised to fire in from just outside the area.
In difficult conditions in Murcia, both sides struggled to create chances, but Ireland responded well to going behind and took control of the game. Captain Katie McCabe saw her fierce effort blocked in the 20th minute, before Ireland's best chance of the game just past the half-hour.
A well-worked corner routine between Tyler Toland and McCabe saw the near-post cross flicked just past the left-hand post by the dominant Louise Quinn.
Ireland were hampered by two defensive injuries as Scott was forced off just after the break, to be replaced by Claire O'Riordan. In the final 15 minutes O'Riordan sustained a head injury and she was replaced by senior international debutant Niamh Farrelly.
Ireland, who were missing strike duo Leanne Kiernan and Rianna Jarrett, failed to create many chances in the second-half.
"I can't fault the effort of the players. They've had a great week of training and they've continued until the very last minute," said Bell.
"Belgium are a strong side and they will do well, no doubt. The disappointing thing is that we've lost the game without being outclassed. The goal they scored was down to our mistake and that is extremely frustrating.
"We're missing a few players, but that gave the opportunity to some other players. We've played two 16-year-olds, three 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds, so this is a great experience for the younger players.
"Emily Kraft deserved to start today after a fantastic week of training and showed that she can compete at this level."