UEFA Nations League - Group A2
BelgiumBelgium2EnglandEngland0

Belgium 2-0 England: England fail to qualify for Nations League finals

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Dries Mertens scores from a free-kick
Dries Mertens was the first player to score a direct free-kick for Belgium since Kevin de Bruyne v Israel in 2015

England's hopes of qualifying for the Nations League finals were ended by defeat against Belgium in Leuven.

Gareth Southgate's side had plenty of possession against the world's top-ranked side but were toothless in attack and ultimately undone by two early goals.

Leicester City's Youri Tielemans opened the scoring after 10 minutes when his 20-yard shot took a deflection off Tyrone Mings, and Dries Mertens doubled their advantage 13 minutes later with a superb free-kick after Declan Rice was harshly adjudged to have fouled Kevin de Bruyne.

Belgium's second came after Romelu Lukaku had headed off the line brilliantly from Harry Kane, and while England spent much of the second half in their opponents' half, they were unable to fashion the opportunities to work their way back into contention.

Defeat means England will not reach the finals after finishing third in 2019, when the inaugural showpiece was held in Portugal.

In the other match in group A2, Christian Eriksen scored twice to give Denmark a 2-1 victory over Iceland.

Meanwhile, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson was replaced at half-time as a precaution, while Chelsea left-back Ben Chilwell limped off on 38 minutes with an apparent back injury.

Grealish makes his mark

Jack Grealish
Grealish was making his first competitive start for England

England were without the injured Raheem Sterling, giving Aston Villa's Jack Grealish the opportunity to build on the fine early impression he has made at international level.

He emerged as England's outstanding performer and driving force, drawing a succession of fouls from Belgium.

Irrespective of the result, Grealish can feel highly satisfied with his own individual display, which followed his impressive performances in the friendlies against Wales and the Republic of Ireland.

It also gives Southgate a pleasant problem. It has often seemed as if Grealish has had to convince Southgate of his pedigree at this level, and while the manager may still prefer a front three of Kane, Sterling and Marcus Rashford if all are fit and in form, he now has other options.

Group table graphic
Victory for Belgium sent them two points clear at the top of the table heading into the final game

Is England's system too negative?

Southgate again went with a system of five at the back - and once again it looked like the formation left England short of pace and creativity.

For all the possession England enjoyed, Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was hardly worked in any serious fashion.

Southgate can point out, with justification, that England were without the thrust of Sterling and Rashford, but there is still a balance to be struck and on the evidence so far this has not yet been achieved.

Belgium did not seem unduly concerned - almost allowing England to have possession in the second half - and comfortably exacted a measure of revenge for their defeat at Wembley in October.

'Grealish had an outstanding game' - manager reaction

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez: "It was a really good game of football, two strong teams who know each other very well and played each other four times since the 2018 World Cup.

"We got the early lead then we had to suffer and see the press and risk that England took. We could not utilise that in our advantage and we defended really well and showed a good focus. That pleases me a lot. You need to give credit to England, they did very well in the second half and pushed us high up."

England manager Gareth Southgate: "We don't like losing but enormous credit to the team. All the way through they created problems and defended resiliently. I thought we were excellent. I couldn't have enough praise for the players.

"We had a different profile of players but in those positions, I thought Jack Grealish had an absolutely outstanding game. Losing Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, we lose a lot of speed. But I can't fault the attacking play until the last chance."

The best of the stats

  • England have lost back-to-back competitive internationals for the first time since losing three in a row from July to September 2018, a run that also included a defeat by Belgium.
  • This was Roberto Martínez's 50th match in charge of Belgium and their 39th win under him, losing just four (D7).
  • This was England's 10th defeat in 48 matches under Gareth Southgate, making him the first manager to lose 10 matches with the Three Lions since Sven-Goran Eriksson, who lost 10 of his 67 games in charge.
  • Belgium have won each of their last 11 competitive home internationals, scoring 48 goals and conceding just four in this spell.
  • England conceded two goals from outside box in a single game for the first time since June 2017 against Scotland, and were two goals behind at half-time in any international for the first time since August 2009 in a friendly against the Netherlands.
  • Tielemans scored his third goal in 33 senior internationals for Belgium; he has three goals in his last five appearances for club and country, as many as his previous 46 combined before this.
  • Lukaku has been directly involved in 19 goals in last 13 appearances for Belgium (15 goals, 4 assists).
  • Kane became the first player to make 50 England caps while playing for Tottenham Hotspur, and the first outfield player to make his first 50 England appearances all while at the same club since John Terry with Chelsea.

What's next?

England host Iceland in their final Nations League match on Wednesday (19:45 GMT).

Player of the match

GrealishJack Grealish

with an average of 7.38

Belgium

  1. Squad number7Player nameDe Bruyne
    Average rating

    7.15

  2. Squad number8Player nameTielemans
    Average rating

    7.04

  3. Squad number14Player nameMertens
    Average rating

    6.89

  4. Squad number9Player nameLukaku
    Average rating

    6.89

  5. Squad number2Player nameAlderweireld
    Average rating

    6.35

  6. Squad number5Player nameVertonghen
    Average rating

    6.31

  7. Squad number6Player nameWitsel
    Average rating

    6.25

  8. Squad number3Player nameDenayer
    Average rating

    6.05

  9. Squad number1Player nameCourtois
    Average rating

    6.02

  10. Squad number10Player nameT Hazard
    Average rating

    6.00

  11. Squad number15Player nameMeunier
    Average rating

    5.90

  12. Squad number19Player namePraet
    Average rating

    5.81

England

  1. Squad number16Player nameGrealish
    Average rating

    7.38

  2. Squad number9Player nameKane
    Average rating

    5.25

  3. Squad number20Player nameSaka
    Average rating

    4.93

  4. Squad number12Player nameMings
    Average rating

    4.44

  5. Squad number2Player nameWalker
    Average rating

    4.21

  6. Squad number3Player nameTrippier
    Average rating

    4.11

  7. Squad number18Player nameCalvert-Lewin
    Average rating

    4.10

  8. Squad number14Player nameWinks
    Average rating

    4.04

  9. Squad number7Player nameMount
    Average rating

    3.84

  10. Squad number8Player nameHenderson
    Average rating

    3.83

  11. Squad number11Player nameSancho
    Average rating

    3.82

  12. Squad number15Player nameChilwell
    Average rating

    3.76

  13. Squad number5Player nameRice
    Average rating

    3.66

  14. Squad number1Player namePickford
    Average rating

    3.65

  15. Squad number4Player nameDier
    Average rating

    3.13

Line-ups

Belgium

  • 1Courtois
  • 2AlderweireldBooked at 51mins
  • 3Denayer
  • 5Vertonghen
  • 15MeunierBooked at 54mins
  • 8Tielemans
  • 6WitselBooked at 44mins
  • 10T Hazard
  • 7De Bruyne
  • 14MertensSubstituted forPraetat 83'minutes
  • 9Lukaku

Substitutes

  • 4Mechele
  • 11Lukebakio
  • 12Mignolet
  • 13Casteels
  • 16Foket
  • 17Vanaken
  • 18Verschaeren
  • 19Praet
  • 20Benteke
  • 21Delcroix
  • 22Chadli
  • 23Batshuayi

England

  • 1Pickford
  • 2Walker
  • 4Dier
  • 12Mings
  • 3TrippierSubstituted forSanchoat 70'minutes
  • 8HendersonSubstituted forWinksat 45'minutes
  • 5Rice
  • 15ChilwellSubstituted forSakaat 38'minutes
  • 7MountSubstituted forCalvert-Lewinat 69'minutes
  • 16Grealish
  • 9Kane

Substitutes

  • 6Keane
  • 11Sancho
  • 13Pope
  • 14Winks
  • 17Maitland-Niles
  • 18Calvert-Lewin
  • 19Foden
  • 20Saka
  • 21Abraham
  • 22Henderson
  • 23Bellingham
Referee:
Danny Makkelie

Match Stats

Home TeamBelgiumAway TeamEngland
Possession
Home45%
Away55%
Shots
Home8
Away16
Shots on Target
Home3
Away3
Corners
Home1
Away5
Fouls
Home15
Away8

Live Text

  1. Post update

    Match ends, Belgium 2, England 0.

  2. Full Time

    Second Half ends, Belgium 2, England 0.

  3. Post update

    Foul by Harry Winks (England).

  4. Post update

    Axel Witsel (Belgium) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

  5. Post update

    Attempt missed. Romelu Lukaku (Belgium) left footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Youri Tielemans following a fast break.

  6. Post update

    Attempt missed. Axel Witsel (Belgium) right footed shot from the right side of the box is too high. Assisted by Dennis Praet.

  7. Post update

    Attempt blocked. Romelu Lukaku (Belgium) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Kevin De Bruyne.

  8. Post update

    Attempt blocked. Harry Kane (England) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Bukayo Saka.

  9. Substitution

    Substitution, Belgium. Dennis Praet replaces Dries Mertens.

  10. Post update

    Attempt missed. Harry Kane (England) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Jack Grealish.

  11. Post update

    Corner, England. Conceded by Jason Denayer.

  12. Post update

    Attempt saved. Romelu Lukaku (Belgium) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Dries Mertens.

  13. Post update

    Bukayo Saka (England) wins a free kick on the left wing.

  14. Post update

    Foul by Thomas Meunier (Belgium).

  15. Post update

    Hand ball by Harry Kane (England).

  16. Post update

    Attempt blocked. Harry Kane (England) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Bukayo Saka.

  17. Post update

    Foul by Dominic Calvert-Lewin (England).

  18. Post update

    Thorgan Hazard (Belgium) wins a free kick on the left wing.

  19. Post update

    Foul by Harry Winks (England).

  20. Post update

    Youri Tielemans (Belgium) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

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