Despite having numerous possession, Gareth Southgate’s men suffered their third defeat in four meetings against the world’s top-ranked side. Belgium made England’s attack toothless in getting the win via two early goals from Youri Tielemans and Dries Mertens.
It could be recalled that England won their last meeting in the UEFA Nations League 2-1 at Wembley in October.
The Napoli winger becomes the first player to score a direct free-kick for Belgium since Kevin de Bruyne against Israel in 2015.
The Leicester City midfielder opened the scoring after 10 minutes when his 20-yard shot took a deflection off Tyrone Mings. Mertens then doubled their advantage 13 minutes later with a superb free-kick after Declan Rice was harshly adjudged to have fouled Kevin de Bruyne.
So, England won’t reach the finals this time around, after finishing third in 2019, when the inaugural showpiece was held in Portugal.
Meanwhile, in the other match in group A2, Christian Eriksen scored two penalties to give Denmark a 2-1 victory over Iceland, which qualified them for the finals.
The victory moves Belgium two points clear at the top of the table heading into the final game.
Southgate misses Rashford and Sterling despite the ouster of England from Nations League
Southgate went for a five-man defensive pairing which was bereft of pace and creativity.
This could be due to the absence of Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling. The width, which has been England’s usual point of attack was not really used but England had the possession. Despite that, Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was hardly worked in any serious fashion.
With Jack Grealish producing a good performance, there is still a balance to be struck and on the evidence so far this has not yet been achieved.
“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,” England manager Gareth Southgate said after the game.
Meanwhile, his counterpart, Roberto Martinez lauded England for their performance but showered praise on his team for maintaining focus defensively.
“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 utilize 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.”
UEFA Nations League: Belgium v England game stats
- England has 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 has won each of their last 11 competitive home internationals, scoring 48 goals and conceding just four in this spell.
- England conceded two goals from the outside box in a single game for the first time since June 2017 against Scotland and was 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 the 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.