Belgium 2, England 0
Goals by Youri Tielemans and Dries Mertens ended England’s interest in the Nations League finals after they could not break down Belgium.Embed from Getty Images
Romelu Lukaku cleared off the line to prevent England from pulling one back and the Belgians spent much of the second half on the back foot but managed to keep out Gareth Southgate’s side.
It was a shame as England had the better of the Belgians for much of the game but were undone by clinical finishing by Roberto Martinez’ side in stark contrast to England who were missing some of their best and fastest forwards in Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling.
The Belgians resorted to tactical fouls as England gained the upper footballing hand in the second half but could not take one of their 16 shots on their goal – only three were on target in the end.
Jack Grealish kept his place in the England side from the win over the Republic of Ireland on Thursday as Sterling was kept out of the side through an injury precaution.
Tyrone Mings and Mason Mount were the other two players to keep their places in the side from the friendly but England’s forwards – Grealish, Mount, and Harry Kane lacked pace and were well marshalled by the Belgians.
England manager Gareth Southgate tried to take the positives from the defeat, with one highlight the performance of Jack Grealish who was making his first competitive start for England.
He said: “The scoreline feels harsh, we don’t like losing football matches but I want to pay tribute to the team. I thought we were excellent.
“We had a different profile of players for sure but I thought Jack had an outstanding game. We knew we had players who had to come to the ball but we had lost a lot of speed up front.
“We created far more chances than we did at Wembley.”
On Grealish, Southgate was effusive, adding: “I knew I would see someone with the bravery to play, He took the ball in tight areas, he had good technique and took players out of the game.
“He won us a lot of free kicks.
“I’m not sure we could have been any more creative than we were tonight.
“We didn’t want to lose today and go out of the competition.”
England were behind after just 10 minutes in Belgium after a slack pass out by Eric Dier was intercepted by the home side who were playing high up the pitch.
Belgium immediately counter attacked and Romelu Lukaku teed up Youri Tielemans who smashed in a low goalbound shot which took deflections off Tyrone Mings and the fingertips of Jordan Pickford and went in off the right hand post to put them 1-0 up.
And Lukaku was in action at the other end of the pitch, heading Harry Kane’s header off the line from an England corner minutes later.
And Belgium scored again after 24 minutes with Dries Mertens firing in from a free kick for his third goal in his last 3 minutes – fired into the left side of the goal beyond Pickford’s reach after Declan Rice was harshly adjudged to have fouled Kevin De Bruyne as he shaped to shoot from the edge of the area – he had actually reached the ball first and De Bruyne kicked Rice.
Without Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford up front Harry Kane lacked the pace around him to stretch the Belgians and England were hit by an injury to Ben Chilwell which precipitated the early arrival of Bukayo Saka after 38 minutes.
Kane was denied from a tight angle by a save from Tibaut Courtois but the Belgians had little to worry about despite England notching up 7 shots on goal on the first half without threatening.
Harry Winks came on for Jordan Henderson at half time and England wasted two good chances to pull a goal back after Kane and Grealish were fouled on the edge of the area.
Both free kicks were wasted by Mason Mount and Kieran Trippier while Kane at least tested Courtois and Thomas Meunier escaped a second yellow card after taking down Saka.
With 20 minutes to go Southgate made a double change to try and make a breakthrough against the tiring Belgians – Mount and the injured Trippier were withdrawn and Jason Sancho and Dominic Calvert-Lewin came on.
Saka’s free kick was punched away by Courtois while Pickford saved from Lukaku at close range and Kane had two chances deflected off Jason Denayer.
Dennis Praet replaced goalscorer Mertens with 7 minutes to go as Belgium looked to see out the game but Lukaku sent a chance to make it 3-0 in added time wide with England out of ideas.
With Wednesday’s final group game against Iceland now a dead rubber it might be expected that there will be some changes in that game as squad players can get a run-out while tired first players can get a rest.
GOALS – Belgium 2, England 0
Belgium 1, England 0: 10. Youri Tielemens’ shot put the Belgians in to the lead after a sloppy pass out from Eric Dier was intercepted and Belgium counter attacked – Romelu Lukaku slipped the Leicester City midfielder through and he made no mistake.
Belgium 2, England 0: 24. Dries Mertens scored a 20 yard free kick inside the left hand upright and beyond the reach of Jordan Pickford after Kevin De Bruyne was harshly adjudged to have fouled Kevin De Bruyne on the edge of the England box.
MATCH STATS – Belgium 2, England 0
Belgium: Courtois, Alderweireld, Denayer, Vertonghen, Meunier, Witsel, Tielemens, Thorgan Hazard, De Bruyne, Mertens (Praet 83), Lukaku
Belgium Subs Not Used: Mignolet, Mechele, Lukebakio, Casteels, Foket, Vanaken, Verschaeren, Benteke, Delcroix, Chadli, Batshuayi
Booked: Witsel 44, Vertonghen 50; Meunier 54
Goals: Tielemens 10; Mertens 24
England: Pickford, Walker, Dier, Mings, Trippier (Sancho 70), Henderson (Winks 46), Rice, Chilwell (Saka 38), Mount (Calvert-Lewin 70), Grealish, Kane
England Subs Not Used: Henderson, Pope, Keane, Maitland-Niles, Foden, Abraham, Bellingham
Referee: Danny Makkelie