ENGLAND 0, BELGIUM 1
England will face Colombia in the Round of 16 following their first defeat for a year in their final World Cup 2018 group game against Belgium meant that they would finish second in Group G.
Both sides fielded second string sides but it was former Manchester United winger Adnan Januzaj who scored the game’s only goal as Belgium set up a game with Japan after topping Group G.
After several days of speculation, England manager Gareth Southgate opted to make eight changes, with only Jordan Pickford, John Stones, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek retaining their places in the side.
Southgate’s plan was clearly to get every outfield player some game time but while defeat to the Belgians may have sent Southgate’s side into the so-called “easier” half of the draw they will face dangerous opponents in Colombia with or without the injured James Rodriguez.
Second string sides for both England and Belgium
The World Cup’s leading goal-scorer Harry Kane was amongst eight England players to get a breather from World Cup action after their 6 goal thumping of Panama on Sunday.
He was replaced by Eric Dier who took up the captain’s armband to lead the second youngest ever side in a major tournament match at 25 years, 251 days – bettered only by Sweden in the 2002 World Cup.
But in Kane’s absence, England misfired in front of goal, with a second half by Marcus Rashford the best chance for a goal by England’s reserve side.
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez opted for nine changes, with just Thibaut Courtois and ex-Man City defender Dedryck Boyata staying in the side since their win over Tunisia last weekend.
England may have had more possession in the first quarter of the game but the Belgians had the better chances with first half shots by Youri Tielemans, Michy Batshuayi, and Marouane Fellaini and slowly got a grip on the game as England struggled to muster chances and even lost out in collecting bookings the game drifted towards a facsimile of the France vs Denmark bore draw on Tuesday.
Monaco midfielder Tielemans forced the the first save of his tournament for Jordan Pickford after just six minutes – a well struck effort that was high but parried by the Everton custodian.
Three minutes later Pickford spilled a Fellaini knockdown which was poked goalwards by Batshuayi before the youngster was rescued by a hacked clearance off the line by Gary Cahill.
Cahill could have scored at the other end with a header as England capitalised on crossing with Jamie Vardy also nodding wide from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s right wing cross.
Belgium rack up the bookings
Tielemans and Leander Dendoncker made it 5-2 to Belgium on bookings as they targeted Rose with illegal challenges but the Red Devils were also more dangerous with their attacks.
Fellaini’s chest trap and shot was blocked on the line by Alexander-Arnold from a Belgium corner.
The young Liverpool full back tried to take Courtois by surprise with a deep searching cross that wasn’t far from going in.
Loftus-Cheek headed an Alexander-Arnold’s corner wide as England struggled to get a realistic shot on target against the Belgian second string.
Stones was withdrawn as an injury precaution and Harry Maguire came on at the break. Rashford tried his luck with an attempted curler which didn’t curl enough three minutes after the restart but it was ex-Manchester United midfielder Adnan Januzaj, 23, who broke the deadlock.
Januzaj shimmied inside the box after cutting inside from the right, easily bamboozling Rose, and thrashed home the opening goal after Tielemans laid off the ball to him in the 51st minute.
Pickford was in poor shape for the shot and seemed to be taken by surprise by the quality and the flight of the ball.
England were briefly roused by going behind and Loftus-Cheek won a free kick 25 yards out in a central position but Alexander-Arnold couldn’t get the ball past the Belgian wall.
In a way, England seemed unmoved by going behind despite the sight of Harry Kane getting ready to come on but the England talisman never made it on to the pitch – perhaps a sign of the priorities for Southgate who later admitted that it wouldn’t have been wise for Kane to get a knock in this game.
Marcus Rashford misses with England’s best chance of the night
Vardy released Rashford who was clean through in the 66th minute but his attempt to bend the ball around Courtois was fingertipped away by the Chelsea ‘keeper – England’s best chance of the night.
Thomas Vermaelen had sustained a blood injury following an earlier clash of heads with Vardy and was replaced in the 74th minute by Manchester City and Belgium captain Vincent Kompany who helped Belgium to protect their lead.
Southgate responded by bringing on Danny Welbeck for Alexander-Arnold or the last 12 minutes – pushing Marcus Rashford to the right wing-back slot.
But Rashford was soon back at the business end of the pitch, hitting a free kick over the bar – summing up England’s night in front of goal.
Welbeck’s 13 yard goalbound strike was deflected away for a corner by Fellaini as England gamely kept pushing.
Martinez replaced goalscorer Januzaj with Dries Mertens as the clock ran down and Belgium had the best chances at the end of the game as England lifted off the gas.
With set pieces still offering England’s best route to goal Rose won a free kick and sent in a ball which Welbeck hit wide.
But Belgium were better than that – Tielemans set up Mertens for a shot which was saved by Pickford, while Thorgen Hazard’s shot hit Mertens on its way to goal.
England cleared an injury time goal mouth scramble that might have seen a second Belgian goal while Fellaini hit the side netting.
England vs Belgium 0-1 – MATCH STATS
England: Pickford, Jones, Stones (Maguire 46), Cahill, Dier, Alexander-Arnold (Welbeck 78), Loftus-Cheek, Delph, Rose, Rashford, Vardy
Belgium: Courtois, Dendoncker, Boyata, Varmaelen (Kompany 74), Chadli, Tielemans, Dembele, T Hazard, Januzaj (Mertens 86), Fellaini, Batshuayi
Bookings: Tielemans 19, Dendoncker 33
Goal: Januzaj 51