England 0-1 Belgium World Cup 2018 Group G: match report
A solitary goal from Adnan Januzaj was enough to separate the sides in the game and in Group G as their paths are not set in the knockout stages.
England 0-1 Belgium: match report
Belgium beat England and topped Group G with the win as well as becoming the third team in the competition to win all three games in the group stages along with Uruguay and Croatia.
Both managers made wholesale changes to their sides as the top spot in the group was up for grabs. But neither side will have minded losing despite the consequences of their first defeat in the World Cup.
After the excitement Group H earlier in the day that saw Colombia leapfrog Japan and Senegal, which also pushed Japan into second place, the tables turned.
The losers of England and Belgium would be playing Colombia on the supposedly easier side of the draw. The winners would play Japan in the last 16 on the more difficult side. Arguably an easier last 16 game with a win but much tougher tests after that.
England were the more productive side in the first half and far more proactive in attack even if they didn't create a bunch of chances. Belgium were blunt in attack and had no apparent interest in changing that fact.
They did come to life for a spell in the second half though and it resulted in the games only goal. Adnan Januzaj recieved the ball from Youri Tielemans and after a couple of lovely touches to purchase himself a yard, he curled beyond a stretched-out Jordan Pickford.
They went back into hibernation after that and England had chances through Rashford and Welbeck but they couldn't land the equaliser.
In the end, after a tame affair, it will be Belgium who play Japan and England who play Colombia in the last 16. Their paths are set. Now they have to go and travel the ones they have forged for themselves.
England vs Belgium live: latest updates
England vs Belgium live: World Cup match preview
The Group G match between England and Belgium was a mouth-watering prospect before the World Cup kicked off with Gareth Southgate’s largely untested young Lions going up against the flair and finesse of Roberto Martínez’s Red Devils in a potentially decisive shoot-out for top spot.
But the build-up to Thursday’s game has alighted more on whether either side will really go for the jugular with the nation finishing second having a theoretically softer route through the knock-out stages in Russia.
England and Belgium have both qualified and are locked on points and goal difference, opening up the possibility that fair play considerations or even the drawing of lots may be required to settle the affair of who goes through in which position.
Southgate rubbished suggestions that he would play a tactical game off the pitch in his pre-match press conference, joking that if he head-butted his opposite number the watching world would know the reason why: “We want to win the game, that would mean we would top the group, and we play who we play in the next round,” the England boss said.
“I am trying to develop a winning mentality. I can’t imagine a situation where I stand in front of the group of players I have got and start talking to them about anything else. We had a choice with our friendly matches to play teams who would be a bit easier, but we deliberately chose to play against top teams because we knew it would be better challenge.”
Even so, Southgate is likely to ring the changes in Kaliningrad. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Kyle Walker are on the disciplinary tightrope and Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard are prime candidates for a rest.
Martínez: "The priority is not to win"
Belgium boss Martínez sang from a different songbook before the game, stating that the result was not important while suggesting he will rest a number of key players who are either struggling with injuries or in danger of missing the next round through suspension.
“We want to perform well but the priority is not to win,” Martinez said. “The reality is we put ourselves in this situation we wanted to qualify and we have done that. There are players with yellow cards and I don't think it would be professional for us to put those players in a risk to miss the knockout phase.”
Romelu Lukaku is unlikely to feature, with Martínez stating that the England game is “probably one day too early” in the striker’s recovery programme from an ankle injury.
Kevin de Bruyne, Thomas Meunier and Jan Vertonghen are all a caution away from suspension while Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and Vincent Kompany are all nursing minor problems.
Belgium and England have met twice before at the World Cup and the group stage precedent is encouraging for fans in the Kaliningrad Stadium: in the 1954 World Cup the sides played out a 4-4 draw in Basel. In 1990, a David Platt goal in extra time sent Belgium home in the last 16.
Either of those results, or anything in between, cannot be ruled out in Kaliningrad with both sides likely to feature several players with an eye on staking their claim for a place in the starting line-up at the same stage in Russia.