Belgium and England played on Saturday aiming to determine which side would finish with the third place of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. And just like it happened during the Group Stage, The Red Devils once again came out on top. An early goal from Thomas Meunier and a late second-half strike from Eden Hazard were everything The Red Devils needed to secure a 2-0 win and the finish as the third-best team on Russia 2018.
A fast start for Belgium puts them quickly on top
The game got off to an intense start since both teams got off to an attacking style right from the get go, but Belgium only needed three minutes to break the deadlock. Lukaku held up the ball in midfield and placed a through ball towards Nacer Chadli, who crossed the ball and found Thomas Meunier. The PSG right-back slotted it home past Jordan Pickford to put The Red Devils up 1-0 before the fifth-minute mark.
England had to turn things around quickly and The Three Lions often pushed through the flanks, where Danny Rose got a prominent role on the left. However, aside from a shot from Fabian Delph and a header from Ruben Loftus-Cheek they didn’t carry any danger. Belgium looked far more dangerous; Pickford made a stellar one-handed save following a deflection to deny Kevin de Bruyne, and later a poor control from Lukaku denied The Red Devils from adding a second strike.
Belgium kept dominating during the first 45 minutes
Arguably, England’s best chance came in the 23rd minute when Harry Kane got into a decent scoring position, but his effort went wide after he slipped before shooting from the edge of the box. But that was not a consistent thing; England looked quite uncomfortable on both ends of the pitch and Belgium kept in control of the contest. In fact, Toby Alderweireld went only a few inches over the crossbar in the 35th minute in what could have been their second goal.
Aside from Chadli’s injury in the 36th minute, not much happened in the remainder of the first half. And the initial 45 minutes concluded with a 1-0 lead for The Red Devils.
The second-half substitutions paid off for Southgate…
Gareth Southgate was not a happy man after the first half and decided to spark things up, sending Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford in place of Rose and Sterling, respectively. The moves paid off, as England looked far more positive in the early going of the second half. Kane came close to score in the 54th minute following a cross from the right flank, but he couldn’t hit from close range.
Belgium answered quickly, though. A lovely through ball found Lukaku in the 56th minute but as it was the trend during the entire match, the Manchester United striker could not control the ball when he was one-on-one against Pickford. Lukaku would end up leaving the pitch shortly after in what ended being a disappointing World Cup for the towering striker since he couldn’t score during the knockout stages when the team needed him the most.
…but England’s best stretch did not result in goals
England did not back down and tried to turn things around, but seemed unable to do so. The team barely moved past the halfway line and when they did, most of the sequences ended either with a poor touch or with a cross towards Kane. The Tottenham star was annulled by Vincent Kompany and Alderweireld, though. His impact in this game was minimal, and England felt it. But The Three Lions wouldn’t be kept quiet for longer.
Eric Dier (of all people!) turned out to be England’s biggest reference on the attacking end down the stretch. He tested Courtois’ hands and a few minutes later, he chipped the ball over the Chelsea goalkeeper but Alderweireld sliced across the goal-line to deny the equalizer. Kane and Harry Maguire also tried their luck with headers, but both went wide off the right post. By far, these were England’s best minutes when it came to constructing plays in the final third.
Hazard closes the deal in the final minutes
The final 15 minutes of action were played with a lot of intensity. England were playing near Belgium’s box, but The Red Devils almost added a second strike when a lovely passing sequence between De Bruyne, Hazard and Dries Mertens finished with Meunier smashing a right-footed volley, but Pickford was magnificent (again!) to keep England alive in the game. But he couldn’t do anything on a one-on-one against Hazard.
A stellar attacking run from De Bruyne set up Hazard, who won the duel against Phil Jones and coolly placed the ball past Pickford in the near post. Game, set, and match for The Red Devils. England couldn’t bounce back from that second goal, and Belgium sealed the deal comfortably.
Belgium finished the 2018 FIFA World Cup in third place, clinching their best all-time performance in this kind of tournament. Meanwhile, England will have to settle for repeating the fourth-place finish they conquered 28 years ago in Italy 1990. But knowing they have set up the foundation to make even more noise in Qatar 2022… providing they get there, of course.
Belgium: Courtois (6); Alderweireld (7), Kompany (6), Vertonghen (6); Meunier (7), Tielemans (6) (Dembele (-), 78’), Witsel (5), Chadli (6) (Vermaelen (5), 39’); De Bruyne (7), Hazard (7); Lukaku (4) (Mertens (6), 60’)
England: Pickford (6); Jones (4), Stones (5), Maguire (6); Trippier (5), Loftus-Cheek (6) (Alli (-), 84’), Dier (7), Delph (5), Rose (4) (Lingard (5), 46’); Kane (5), Sterling (4) (Rashford (5), 46’)
Goals: Meunier (4’, 1-0), Hazard (82’, 2-0)
Referee: Alireza Faghani (IRN). He admonished Stones (52’), Maguire (78’), and Witsel (90+4′)
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