England has been condemned to a fourth-placed finish at the 2018 World Cup courtesy of a 2-0 defeat to Belgium in the third-place playoff on Saturday.
Belgium took the lead through Thomas Meunier after only four minutes and then wrapped up the victory eight minutes from time when Eden Hazard doubled their advantage, sealing the Red Devils’ best-ever finish at a World Cup.
It took only four minutes for the full-back to mark his return with a goal, getting on the end of a sweeping team move which saw Romelu Lukaku release Nacer Chadli, who in turn played a low ball into the box which Meunier converted from close range having got the wrong side of Danny Rose.
In doing so, Meunier became the 10th different player to score for Belgium at this World Cup, equalling the all-time record for a single tournament.
England did begin to grow into the game as the half wore on, though, and Thibaut Courtois was called into action for the first time to deny Fabian Delph before making another routine stop from Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s header.
It was the Red Devils who continued to look the more comfortable going into half time, but England made two changes at the break and the introductions of Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford in place of Rose and Sterling had a positive impact on the team.
England looked far more comfortable as the second half wore on, though, and they were inches away from levelling things up 20 minutes from time when a one-two between Rashford and Dier sent the latter clean through on goal, and he kept his composure to dink the ball over the onrushing Courtois.
The game began to open up as England committed more men forward in search of an equaliser, and Belgium almost took advantage on the break with 10 minutes remaining when a slick counter-attack ended with Meunier hammering a sweetly-struck volley towards goal which forced Pickford in the latest of a growing list of impressive saves at this World Cup.
It proved to only be a temporary reprieve, though, and Belgium wrapped up their historic victory in the 82nd minute when De Bruyne slid the ball through for Hazard, who darted across Phil Jones before firing his finish past Pickford at the near post.
Belgium’s class of 2018 are now officially their nation’s best ever, meanwhile, as they finish third at the World Cup for the first time in their history.