The second-to-last match at the 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament kicked off today and Belgium put in a solid outing to defeat England, earning a third place medal. Goals by Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard made sure that Belgium did not leave Russia empty handed but the same could not be said for England, who now return home with no medals to show for their effort.
An early Meunier goal sends Belgium on their way
Both sides made changes to their starting lineups but key players like Harry Kane and Eden Hazard remained in the lineup as both Roberto Martínez and Gareth Southgate fielded competitive teams today. The Belgians got off to a quick start and got their reward for it as early as the fourth minute. A goal kick started off by Thibaut Courtois found Romelu Lukaku who then played the ball out wide to Nacer Chadli who was racing full tilt toward goal. The wing back then squared the ball across goal to the other wing back, Thomas Meunier who finished well past Jordan Pickford. It was a well-worked goal by the Belgians who attacked the English backline with pace and precision.
England worked their way back into the match and should have equalized through Harry Kane in the 23rd minute. Eric Dier's long ball found Raheem Sterling who brought the ball down and passed the ball to an arriving Kane just at the top of the Belgian penalty area. However, Kane's shooting boots were not quite on and he slipped as he took his shot, sending the ball well wide of goal. Both sides continued to create chances in the first half but no other person managed to get onto the score sheet and Belgium went into the break ahead.
England pile on the pressure but get caught out on the break
Gareth Southgate made two changes ta half-time as he looked to bring his team back on level terms. The changes worked and England began to pen the Belgians back into their own half. England's biggest chance of the match came in the 70th minute when substitute Marcus Rashford played a lovely one-two with Dier and the midfielder proceeded to chip the advancing Courtois. As Dier began to wheel away in celebration, Toby Alderweireld made a last ditch save on the goal line, nipping in just in time to clear the ball away and prevent Dier from opening his World Cup account. It was probably one of the best defensive efforts you'll see at the World Cup and Alderweireld rightly received praise from his teammates and his goalkeeper for it.
Belgium's free-flowing attacking was still on display despite England dominating possession as they looked to break quickly. Had it not been for Pickford, Meunier would have had his second of the game in the 80th minute. Some one touch soccer that started deep in their own end and brought in the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens allowed Belgium to bypass England quickly on the break. Mertens then played the finally cross to Mertens to who had raced forward to join the attack, only to be foiled by a brilliant save from England's starting goalkeeper.
Two minutes later, the Belgians speed and brilliance paid off as Hazard got his goal in the 82nd minute. Belgium won the ball back quickly as the English backline was advancing and De Bruyne played through Hazard who had drifted back onside. Once he shook of Phil Jones, Hazard then steadied himself before finishing low past Pickford at the near post. That was the final nail in the coffin for England and they did not manage to come back from that. Belgium, though they would have liked to reach the final, will go home happy with their third place finish while England, who started off the tournament so well, will look back at their faltering attack in the knock out stages and know that they will need to be better next time to make it all the way.