A 2-0 defeat to Belgium brought an end to England’s hopes of progressing in the UEFA Nations League with one game still to go.
England went into their penultimate game in Group A2 of the Nations League knowing they needed to win. A loss would end their chances of qualifying for the final stages of the competition.
Gareth Southgate stuck with the 3-4-3 system for the clash. Jack Grealish made his first competitive start for England, playing alongside Mason Mount in support of Harry Kane, who earned his 50th cap.
There were plenty of familar faces in the Belgium lineup, with seven of their starting XI having played in the Premier League at some point in their careers. Of those seven, Kevin De Bruyne, Youri Tielemans and Toby Alderweireld were the only ones still plying their trade in England.
It was one member of that trio who gave Belgium the lead after just 10 minutes. England defender Eric Dier gave the ball away when playing out from the back, before Romelu Lukaku worked it to Tielemans.
The Leicester midfielder arrowed a shot towards the bottom corner. It was going on target, before a slight deflection off Tyrone Mings took it definitively beyond the reach of Jordan Pickford, who had been restored to the starting goalkeeper role by Southgate.
England had a chance to equalise just a minute later when Kane headed goalwards from a corner. However, Lukaku did well to make a goalline clearance with his own head.
It was 2-0 after 24 minutes. England gave away a free kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the box, even though replays showed there was minimal contact from Declan Rice on De Bruyne.
Despite the Manchester City playmaker standing over it, Dries Mertens took the shot on. The Napoli forward curled it above the wall and into the net to double the advantage.
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England substitutions spark little change
England were forced into a substitution before the break, as Ben Chilwell could not carry on. Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, coming on for his competitive senior international debut, replaced the Chelsea man.
England made another change at half-time, as Harry Winks replaced Jordan Henderson. It is not yet clear if the Liverpool midfielder was carrying a knock, but it would be another big blow to Jurgen Klopp if that is the case.
With the flow of the game showing little sign of changing, Southgate made a double substitution heading into the last 20 minutes. Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jadon Sancho came on with the intention of adding some fresh impetus into the attack.
Belgium, on the other hand, were yet to use any of their subs. However, they still looked comfortable, with Pickford having to stop an effort from Lukaku that nearly caught England off-guard.
At the other end, England kept probing, but few of their ventures forward became clear cut chances. It was summed up when Kane tried to curl an effort on goal from outside the box, but it swerved wide.
Hence, the game finished 2-0 to Belgium, who now only need to avoid defeat against Denmark on Wednesday to reach the Nations League final stages next October.
England will take on Iceland in their last game of the Nations League group on Wednesday, before the attention returns to club soccer.
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