The Republic of Ireland Women's team suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat to Belgium following Elena Dhont's first-half strike at the Pinatar Arena, Spain.

A strong Belgian side netted their first chance of the game through Dhont in the 16th minute as Colin Bell's young Ireland 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 of 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 quarter-of-an-hour, O'Riordan was forced off after sustaining 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 as Bell's side succumbed to defeat. 

"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 today. If you look at the players we've brought on, 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. She had to go up against a strong Belgian defence, both centre-backs have over 50 caps, and she caused them problems. 

"There were real positives for us to take forward but we need to make sure we're not giving the opposition an opportunity to win the game like we did."

Republic of Ireland: Marie Hourihan; Heather Payne, Megan Connolly, Niamh Fahey (Jessica Ziu 68), Louise Quinn, Harriet Scott (Claire O'Riordan 51 (Niamh Farrelly 86)), Tyler Toland, Denise O'Sullivan, Katie McCabe, Isibeal Atkinson (Emily Whelan 76), Emily Kraft (Amber Barrett 76).

Belgium: Nicky Evrard; Davina Philtjens (Davinia Vanmechelen 64), Tine Decaigny, Lenie Onzia (Chloe Vande Velde 63), Shari Van Belle, Elena Dhont (Heleen Jaques 64), Janice Cayman, Laura De Neve (Ella Van Kerkhoven 83), Julie Biesmans, Laura Deloose, Kassandra Missipo.  

Referee: Zulema Gonzalez Gonzalez (Spain).