It was the final day of the Women’s Euros group stage and Belgium were playing the biggest game in the history of its women’s team. In their starting XI for the winner-takes-all clash with Italy were national icons, from two-time Champions League winner Janice Cayman to the Red Flames’ all-time top scorer, Tessa Wullaert.
Alongside them on the teamsheet, though, was a name that many believe has the potential to hit the same heights over the course of her career; a teenage talent with the world at her feet by the name of Hannah Eurlings.
“She was ready,” Ives Serneels, the Belgium head coach told GOAL, explaining his decision to start 19-year-old Eurlings in such a huge game. “She showed already, in our qualification games, that she has a lot of talent.”
What unfolded on the pitch in Manchester would be historic. Tine De Caigny scored the only goal of the game to take the Red Flames into their first ever major tournament quarter-final, on just their second attempt.
Eurlings took to Instagram after the game to celebrate the achievement. One of the images she used was of her celebrating De Caigny’s goal, running off to celebrate with a player she cites as one of her role models, alongside Cayman and Wullaert. It’s quite a moment to have at such a young age.
Eurlings was three years old when she started to play football. Her obsession for the sport meant she trained every morning and every evening, that passion and dedication being something she is grateful for today as “without it, I would be tactically and technically less advanced,” she said in an interview with HLN.
Her parents would grant her wish to join a club and, after several years of playing with the boys, she would go to the Topsport talent school in Leuven at the age of 14. It was around that time that she was recruited by OH Leuven - the club she debuted for as a 16-year-old - and also started to make her mark in the national teams.
With Belgium, she was put straight into the Under-16 and U17 sides, skipping the U15s entirely. It was a sign of things to come as, two years ago, she then jumped right up into the senior team.
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“I don't often feel stressed when I step onto a football pitch,” she said in an interview with the Belgian FA, recalling her debut. “But the match against Switzerland did cause me some stress.”
Since then, the tricky winger has become a fixture in Serneels’ plans. Her energy, intelligence and youthful confidence has helped her win a further 20 caps in the last 18 months, bringing her four goals as well. In fact, the impression Eurlings has made has been so good that she’s even been referred to as 'the Eden Hazard of the Red Flames' in the Belgian media.
She’s everything you would want in a young forward – a nuisance for oppisition defenders with her movement and quick feet, a player with strong enough awareness of her surroundings to be good defensively as well as in linking up with team-mates, but also a real hard-worker who doesn’t shirk her responsibilities off the ball.
As that latter strength alludes to, as well as the dedicated training she was doing as a young girl, Eurlings has a rare quality given her age and position, in the discipline from within that is helping to drive her promising career forward.
“Football is a team sport and you can excel in one match, but the team is still the most important and if you grow as a team, you also grow individually,” she explained. It’s a trait matched by steely determination, too.
“I set the bar very high for myself and that has made me the player I am today. I just really want to win because from the moment I feel I am performing, the satisfaction is huge. If I didn't set the bar so high for myself, I don't think I would be here.”
So far, that attitude has made her a prolific goal-scorer in Belgium’s domestic league and has taken her to a major tournament, all as a teenager.
Next on the list of aims is to go abroad "in France, or England or Spain" and become a professional footballer for the first time. After glimpses of the electricity she can bring to a pitch in England, she’ll have caught the eye of a few clubs, that’s for certain. It would be the next step in announcing herself and her abilities to a bigger audience.
But before then, Eurlings has the small matter of a Euros quarter-final, with the Red Flames to face Olympic champions Sweden on Friday. Whatever happens on that night and in the next few years, though, the forward will always be a part of Belgian women’s football history. That’s not a bad way to kick off your career.