Belgium 2-0 England
So, after a UEFA Nations League meeting that mattered between two familiar foes, England will not be able to repeat their run in the competition from 2019 and reach the semi-finals.
Despite an encouraging showing by midfielder Jack Grealish, the Three Lions deserved no more than they got in Leuven: toothless in attack and short of pace and creativity (there were mitigating factors).
Belgium didn’t need to be at their best, or indeed at full strength, to see off Gareth Southgate’s men with the outcome rarely in doubt after two goals inside the opening 23 minutes.
Highlights of the game
It was always going to be a big ask for England with the momentum of the 2018 World Cup now long gone and without their best central defender and two of their best three forwards.
Furthermore, facing the number one ranked team in the world merely added to the challenge.
True, they did beat them at Wembley last month but, boasting arguably the world’s greatest midfielder and one of the most frightening assemblages of talent seen in international football, Belgium are commonly considered England’s superior and given the size and stature of these two nations, the gulf between them still feels a little surreal. This game did little to alter that perception as Belgium made it 15 wins in their past 17 games.
Not conceding early was presumably a key part of Southgate’s masterplan but that went out of the window after just 10 minutes as Romelu Lukaku found Youri Tielemans, who rifled in a 20 yard shot which was deflected in off Tyrone Mings.
Unfairly maligned by some fans in the Premier League, Lukaku’s impact and goalscoring record speaks for itself and not only did he set up the opener but also cleared a header off the line from England skipper Harry Kane just moments before Belgium added the second.
A free-kick should not have been awarded as West Ham’s Declan Rice was harshly adjudged to have fouled Kevin de Bruyne. The fact it was awarded was an opportunity the hosts weren’t going to let pass and Dries Mertens doubled the advantage superbly – one of the UEFA Nations League 2020 highlights as far as set pieces go.
After that it was game over as Belgium seemed comfortable to let England have plenty of possession without ever looking like they would concede.
Does it matter?
Not really, for England’s main aim over the last two years has always been qualification for the now delayed Euro 2020 and that was achieved with some time to spare.
The realistic time to judge what progress or otherwise Southgate and his players are making will depend how they fare in next summer’s competition.
Even though Harry Maguire will be available in midweek, the chances of Raheem Sterling returning are slim and Marcus Rushford will also be absent so Southgate should use the visit to Wembley of Iceland as the perfect chance to experiment.
A lack of real quality and strength in key positions is probably England’s weakest link and they need to try and help players gain more international experience which could be critical when called upon next summer.
As for Belgium, they will have a place in next year’s Nations League semi-finals as long as they avoid defeat in Denmark on Wednesday.
Belgium have won each of their last 11 competitive home internationals, scoring 48 goals and conceding just four in this spell.
No team has outscored Belgium in the current Nations League so far. In contrast, England have netted just three goals to date in the competition.
They have not lost any of their past 23 games on home soil since a 2-0 defeat to Spain in September 2016.
This match was Martinez’s 50th game in charge of Belgium since he took the job in August 2016 (won 39, drawn seven, lost four). The Spaniard is the first manager to reach this milestone for them since Guy Thys’ first spell in charge from 1976 to 1989.
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.
Tielemans has scored three goals in his last five appearances for club and country combined, as many as he had in his previous 46 games in all competitions.
Lukaku has been directly involved in 19 goals in last 13 appearances for Belgium (15 goals, four 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.
England welcome Euro 2016 nemesis Iceland to Wembley on Wednesday evening (November 18) – an ideal opportunity to experiment with the official next fixture not until their Euro 2020 opener against Croatia next June (although some friendlies will be scheduled before then).
Belgium, meanwhile, are also in action in midweek when they host Denmark – a side they have been drawn against in Euro 2020 next summer. Check out the SBOTOP UEFA Nations League 2020 betting odds for that game.
They will have matches to play before their tournament opener against Russia, of course, and can also look forward to the semi-finals of the Nations League, scheduled for next autumn.
CHECK OUT OUR BLOG FOR MORE FOOTBALL STORIES & ODDS
Stay updated with everything sports and betting.