Final Score – 2-0
An uninspiring game in Leuven saw England’s chances of qualification from their Nations League group end after defeat to the top ranked side in the world.
Neither side created many clear scoring opportunities, with Belgium’s goals coming from a Yuri Tielemans strike from outside the area which took two deflections on its way in and an excellent Dries Mertens free kick that Declan Rice was very unlucky to concede.
England had the better of the second half but did not threaten Thibaut Courtois’ goal enough to really suggest a comeback from two goals down.
Thibaut Courtois – 6
The Real Madrid keeper was beaten by Harry Kane’s header from an early corner but was bailed out on the line by Romelu Lukaku. Otherwise was only tested once late in the first when he closed down Kane in the box. Got lost under a high ball in the second period but Kane hand-balled to relieve the danger.
Toby Alderweireld – 6
Some good and some bad for the Tottenham man. Made a crucial block to deny Jack Grealish an immediate equaliser and covered well early on. Looked much more uncomfortable on the ball when pressed high by Grealish and was booked for bringing down Kane on the edge of the box after half time.
Jason Denayer – 6
All action in the opening stages with mixed results. With the freedom of being the central man in a back three he took advantage to make early challenges and interceptions but conceded some fouls. Settled as Belgium controlled possession in the first half but struggled throughout when up against Kane one on one.
Jan Vertonghen – 7
The stand-in captain was only really required for leisurely passing around at the back in the first half. Under more pressure in the second without ever looking especially threatened, but an excellent block on a Kane chance that could have sparked a comeback late in the second preserved the clean sheet.
Thomas Meunier – 5
Functional if un-noteworthy in the first half when not under pressure. Looked much more sloppy when required to defend against Grealish and Bukayo Saka in the second. Booked for a trip on Grealish just outside the area. Was an outlet down the right as England pushed forward later on.
Axel Witsel – 6
Fairly indifferent performance from the Borussia Dortmund midfielder. Always available to receive and provided neat short passing when Belgium were in control, but was invisible for most of the second half when England were on top. Gave away possession a couple of times as his side tried to get on the ball again, and skied a late shot.Embed from Getty Images
Youri Tielemans – 6
Scored the early opener with a shot from outside the area when coming forward onto a Lukaku layoff, but two deflections off the closing down defenders made the difference. Otherwise largely unnoticed before half time. Wasted possession on occasion before sharpening up slightly later on.
Thorgan Hazard – 6
Looked busy and was an outlet down the left-hand side for Belgium. The fact that he was an attacker playing as a wing-back went virtually untested by England. Had little material influence on the game while not really doing anything especially wrong.
Dries Mertens – 6
Scored a lovely free kick in his home town to put Belgium two up but otherwise was virtually anonymous. Only events of note aside from the goal were a cynical block of Grealish just before the hour and one link up with Lukaku before being substituted late on. Quality of the free kick lets him hold on to an average mark.Embed from Getty Images
Kevin De Bruyne – 6
Quiet game by his usual high standards. Looked to burst through the middle of the England defence inside the first minute but then faded from view for most of the first half. Dragged an early second-half shot wide and started some counters late in the game but could not provide any highlights, aside from one lovely long ball with the outside of his boot deep into the second half.
Romelu Lukaku – 7
Belgium’s best player, when he was involved. Assisted the opening goal with a nice layoff to Tielemans and saved a certain equaliser soon after with a headed clearance on the line. Good link up play saw him play Mertens through and nearly score with the return, and curled a late shot wide. Solid hold up play and a willing runner. Would surely have scored higher if he had not been left isolated for most of the second half.
Dennis Praet – N/A
One weird mis-hit pass led to Witsel blasting over the bar.
Jordan Pickford – 6
Not really at fault for either goal. Tielemans strike nicked off Rice and Tyrone Mings before sneaking between his fingertips and the post. The free kick was perfectly placed. Virtually untested otherwise aside from a good stop to deny Lukaku in the second half.
Tyrone Mings – 7
Did well against Lukaku when up against him one on one for the most part. Looked the most composed of the England back three, not that that says a huge amount, and drove forward when he had the opportunity. Almost caught in possession as the last man just after the hour mark but managed to work his way out of trouble.
Eric Dier – 4
Appeared to suffer an injury in the warm-up which might explain the subsequent showing. Struggled with the ball in the first half and his poor pass out from the back to Mason Mount led to the opening goal. Looked generally uncomfortable for the first 45 minutes and could not do much when up against Lukaku. More composed in the second half when under much less pressure but not a good game for the Spurs man.
Kyle Walker – 6
Resorted to repeated raking long balls in the first half with relatively little success as England struggled to get out from defence with possession. Industrious and eager to push forward, as usual, but short of ideas once he got there. Gave the ball away soon after half time to allow a Belgium break away but otherwise little trouble in defence.
Kieran Trippier – 7
Got some lovely deliveries into the box immediately after Belgium’s first, both of which nearly resulted in an equaliser. First curling cross from the right found Grealish but was blocked behind. The resulting corner into a dangerous area saw Kane almost score with a header. Was one of the more imaginative England players as they tried to get a foothold in the game in the first period. Smashed a second-half free kick from the edge of the box straight into Mings, although that may have been the centre-back’s fault. Unlucky to get an accidental boot in the face from Hazard not long before he was replaced by Jadon Sancho as England tried to become more attacking.
Declan Rice – 6
Sat deep and made a few early interceptions but had an unfortunate hand in both goals. The first took a deflection off him as he stretched to close down the shot, and the second came from a free kick that he was harshly penalised for. Had actually done very well to prevent a De Bruyne volley from the edge of the box, nicking in ahead of the Belgian who then kicked his leg, but was adjudged to have committed a foul anyway. Looked more imaginative and threatening in the second half, relatively speaking, but never looked like changing the game.
Jordan Henderson – 4
Strangely off-colour night for the Liverpool captain. Was somewhat by-passed in the first 20 minutes and could not impose himself thereafter. Was replaced by Winks at half time.
Ben Chilwell – 4
Had a few early deliveries that could not match the quality of Trippier’s from the other side, and generally did not look himself, before being the latest Premier League player to break down with injury when he went off inside 40 minutes to be replaced by Saka.Embed from Getty Images
Jack Grealish – 8 – Man of the Match
Made Gareth Southgate’s decision to leave him out of the side for so long look nonsensical with a dynamic display from start to finish. With the exception of Kane, was by far the most involved in all of England’s play. Almost scored an immediate equaliser were it not for an important Alderweireld block. Looked to get on the ball at every opportunity and drew fouls with a similar frequency to his Premier League outings. Combined with Kane frequently in the first half as the rest of the side failed to get into the game. Maintained his prominence throughout the second as his teammates finally began to appear. Caused Meunier problems, with one driving run leading to a foul and a booking and another wonderful flick on the turn leaving the wing-back for dead later on. Worked a chance for himself before bending a shot over on the hour, and slipped in Saka with a lovely reverse ball that nearly led to a Kane goal. Did not create too many obvious chances but made a case for more regular starts his manager will struggle to ignore.
Mason Mount – 5
His lockdown goatee has made another appearance, which was about the most notable thing about his opening 20 minutes. Found himself in position to have attempts on goal despite largely being uninvolved otherwise, but skewed a volley way over after half an hour, headed wide just before half time, and wasted a free kick from a similar spot to where Mertens scored. One very nice backheel played Kane in after half time as he woke up to proceedings, but was not enough to stop him being replaced by Dominic Calvert-Lewin midway through the half. Too often ineffectual in a front three.
Harry Kane – 7
Came as close to scoring as possible when his well-placed header beat Courtois but was headed off the line by Lukaku. After this his usually strong finishing deserted him as he shot weakly along the ground when slipped in by Mount after half time, and his finish from a late Saka squared ball was blocked by his former Spurs teammate Vertonghen. Any other opportunities he had to work himself, along with most of the play, especially in the first half. Led by example on his 50th cap as he dropped deep in the first half to start moves and made runs to get on the end of them, although only Grealish was really working with him. Faded slightly later in the game as the Aston Villa captain took over.Embed from Getty Images
Bukayo Saka (on for Chilwell ’38) – 6
Was involved in most of the England combinations down the left hand side in the second half and made Meunier look uncomfortable. Pressed high and got into the box on occasion, including when he was slipped in by Grealish and almost got an assist for Kane.
Harry Winks (on for Henderson ’46) – 5
A slight upgrade over Henderson but took nearly 20 minutes to really register any involvement. Got on the ball further up the pitch after this but did not produce anything particularly incisive.
Jadon Sancho (on for Trippier ’69) – N/A
Never got up to the tempo of the game, which was hardly break-neck, and did not add any of the attacking pressure his introduction was intended for.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (on for Mount ’69) – N/A
Seemed to be pushed out to the right unless Kane vacated the centre to drop deep. Very little involvement.