Adnan Januzaj’s stunning strike sealed England’s fate as Belgium pipped them to top of the group with a 1-0 win.
In a game where neither manager played their strongest team, England fell to their first defeat of 2018 with a lifeless display.
It was a stunning winner from Januzaj and Belgium will look ahead to a knock-out tie with Japan on Monday.
All of the pre-match talk for this one discussed whether either side wanted to win the game or the group, as possible pathways to the final became clear so it was no surprise that both managers rang the changes. England’s eight were bested by Belgium’s nine changes with key men for both teams such as Harry Kane and Eden Hazard starting the match on the bench.
With qualifications secure for both, the game suffered for a lack of urgency. England failed to look as vibrant as they had in earlier games while Belgium looked aimless in attack despite bossing the first half.
Youri Tielemans forced Jordan Pickford into a good save with a long-range effort but minutes later, the England goalkeeper nearly had a nightmare moment. Marouane Fellaini caused an issue with the knockdown and Pickford fumbled the loose ball under pressure from Michy Batshuayi, but Gary Cahill was on hand to hack off the line to save the goalkeeper’s blushes. VAR may have disrupted any goal celebrations anyway as Batshuayi seemed to foul the goalkeeper, but it was a moment of horror for the England fans.
The only real English chance of the first half fell the way of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, but it was clear to see why the attacking midfielder is known for his powerful running rather than his heading. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner was whipped in with great pace, but the Chelsea player could not direct on target with his head from six yards out.
Gareth Southgate started with Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford up front and the two linked up nicely to create a chance for the Manchester United youngster at the start of the second half. Vardy nicked it off Moussa Dembele nicely but Rashford couldn’t hit the target with a curling strike.
In truth, it was a game that lacked any real quality but there was one moment of class that gave Belgium the three points. Januzaj is well known for a sweet strike on his left foot and after the winger did well to blitz inside past Danny Rose, Pickford stood no chance with a superb curling strike into the far corner. For as good as Januzaj’s strike was, England’s defending was equally as poor as they backed off and allowed the shot at goal to happen.
Despite the goal, the match continued at a pedestrian pace. England did have opportunities to equalise, but some wastefulness cost the Three Lions. Rashford sped onto Vardy’s nice pass and could have laid it in for an open goal for Loftus-Cheek, but the young forward went for goal instead only for Thibaut Courtois to tip around the post.
In the end, Southgate will not be disappointed with the result as it confirmed a meeting with Columbia in the knock-out stage on Tuesday. However, the performance made it clear to see that England’s so-called “B-Team” will need to be better if they are relied upon later in the tournament.