A goal at the start from Thomas Meunier and a clincher at the end from Eden Hazard, secured a best ever World Cup finish for Belgium, beating England 2-0 in Saint Petersburg, to claim third place.

Gareth Southgate opted to rotate slightly after Wednesdays agonising loss to Croatia. Phil Jones, Reuben Loftus-Cheek, Danny Rose, Eric Dier and Fabian Delph all coming in. Meunier and Youri Tielemans were brought in by Roberto Martinez.

Before England could settle down, they were hit with an early sucker punch. Dier couldn’t get near Kevin De Bruyne all game, to the despair of the England backline. He played Eden Hazard off down the left wing and he crossed for Meunier to convert at pace, not even five minutes gone.

A slow start, but England did grow into the game with Raheem Sterling and Loftus-Cheek initiating attacks. Their best chance of the half arrived to the man you’d back to put it away, Harry Kane.

A beautifully lofted pass from Dier picked out Sterling on the edge of the box, he laid it off to the top scorer in Russia, but he dragged it wide. It would prove a disappointing end to the World Cup for Kane, but a likely Golden Boot will make up for something.

England changes brought more urgency in the second half, but the failure to put away opportunities would haunt them once more this week. Dier played a one-two with Kane and dinked Tibo Courtois but Toby Alderweireld hooked away on the line.

Marcus Rashford was bright off the bench but his shot weren’t so eye-catching, it wasn’t meant to be for the Three Lions. Although Jordan Pickford ended his campaign with a stunning one handed save to deny a volley from Meunier, an impressive tournament for him.

So the Red Devils put it to bed on 87 minutes, De Bruyne drove forward and released Hazard who left Jones for dead and Pickford wrong-footed.

Only Kane (6) has been involved in more goals this World Cup than the majestic Belgian forward (5), a Golden Ball could be in wait for Eden?

It wasn’t exactly the ending England fans dreamed of and football hasn’t ‘come home’ literally. But the connection has been reignited by this squad and the promise and progress is there to see for the national side, a World Cup which burrs with pride for England.

 

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