England finish fourth at World Cup after Eden Hazard seals Belgium win

England have finished fourth at the 2018 World Cup, after a 2-0 defeat against Belgium in their third-place play-off at the St Petersburg Stadium

There was a collective puffing of cheeks by England’s players at the final whistle as realisation dawned that it was over. They ended up victims of Belgium’s best-ever World Cup showing, beaten by a team who will be welcomed by King Philippe at Château de Laeken on Sunday before a parade in Brussels’ Grand Place. England intend to fly back, quietly and without fanfare, to Birmingham with holidays on their mind. Instinctively, it feels as if they might merit more.

Gareth Southgate’s young and talented squad have surpassed all expectations. No England team have bettered the fourth place they claimed, unexpectedly and joyously, on foreign soil. Plenty of those on the outside looking in will offer reminders that they escaped high-calibre opposition courtesy of a kind draw, and that Belgium, ranked third in the world, beat them twice. The manager admitted there was a gulf in quality and experience between the two sides. But, in the context of the anxious mess England have appeared at recent major finals, this campaign has been regenerative.

They return with their reputation revived, a squad inspired to improve further and bolstered by the positive experience they have enjoyed over four weeks in Russia. Their real frustration had been endured in the Luzhniki in midweek. This afterthought in St Petersburg, a game played amid the locals’ Mexican waves and those familiar chants of “Rossiya”, should not taint anything that came before. Their rather sluggish first-half showing could be explained by the reality they had been granted not much more than 48 hours, and virtually no training or preparation time, to recover from that crushing disappointment. A numbing sense of anticlimax had inevitably pursued them north from Moscow.

And yet they still revived after the interval, with Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford injecting more urgency into the display. That refusal to go out with a whimper is another cause for optimism. Weary legs and tired minds always had the potential to reduce this contest to a plod as it dragged on in the muggy heat, but England were more assured in their passing, more forceful moving up the pitch and threatened to reclaim parity after Thomas Meunier’s early goal.

Chances were created, opportunities missed. Then Eden Hazard, stirred into action and, fed by the irrepressible Kevin De Bruyne, danced downfield and settled the occasion by deceiving Jordan Pickford with a twist of his hips before burying a shot inside the near post. That was a reminder of the pedigree that England were up against.

At least a contest no one had relished was competitive at times, despite England’s slack opening which had left them chasing the game almost from the outset. Thibaut Courtois’s clearance had been nodded down by Nacer Chadli for Romelu Lukaku to accept, with the striker’s return pass inside Kieran Trippier weighted perfectly for the West Brom winger turned wing-back to collect. His cross was converted by Meunier, sprinting in ahead of a startled Danny Rose. “A horrible goal to concede,” offered Southgate. “But the players’ attitude was still outstanding. They never stopped. They used the ball really well and, in the second half, the players were relentless. There were some incredible individual performances.”

Thomas Meunier celebrates after opening the scoring for Belgium early on.
Thomas Meunier celebrates after opening the scoring for Belgium early on. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

There was evidence aplenty of the pride and commitment for which Southgate had called. Lingard and Rashford seized back the initiative. The team seemed to take heart from a challenge summoned by Fabian Delph, switched to left-back at the break, to thwart Meunier.

John Stones was outstanding, while Pickford, conjuring thrilling saves from Meunier and De Bruyne, maintained the largely excellent form he has offered. Trippier’s radar kicked in on set plays to stretch even a vastly experienced Belgian backline, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek grew into the game. It was the final pass or attempt which undermined them, and that has been a familiar failing.

When Eric Dier exchanged passes with Rashford midway through the second half and advanced alone on Courtois, clipping his shot over the goalkeeper, there was Toby Alderweireld to slide in and hook the effort off the goalline. With that chance went English hopes of reward, with Belgium ending assured.

They finished their tournament with six victories from seven matches, and it is vaguely baffling they will not be competing in Sunday’s final. A bronze medal seems inadequate given their rich talent, for all that Roberto Martínez – with 10 different goalscorers – revelled in the sense of achievement. In Hazard and De Bruyne they possess geniuses at work.

Twice the Manchester City playmaker had slipped Lukaku beyond England’s backline with subtle and gloriously weighted passes, only for the striker’s heavy touch to let him down. Lukaku, four times a scorer in Russia but wounded by France, was substituted on the hour and strode straight down the tunnel, his lingering hopes of claiming the Golden Boot dashed, and was even absent from the post-match huddle on the pitch.

That prize will surely go to Harry Kane, unless Kylian Mbappé or Antoine Griezmann runs riot in the final, even if he looked the most exhausted of England’s players through the last two games. He ended up watching too much of this game from the fringes but England, for once, have not been peripheral. It has been a while since the nation has had that to celebrate.

Player ratings


Dominic Fifield at the St Petersburg Stadium

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Belgium romp past Tunisia with Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku doubles
Belgium are on the verge of qualifying for the last 16 of the World Cup after a 5-2 win over Tunisia at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow

Stuart James at the Spartak Stadium

23, Jun, 2018 @1:59 PM

Article image
Gareth Southgate says England must improve after ‘brilliant adventure’
Gareth Southgate says his players have to ‘improve’ if they are to build on their fourth-place finish at the World Cup

Dominic Fifield at the St Petersburg Stadium

14, Jul, 2018 @6:47 PM

Article image
Eden Hazard’s World Cup brilliance could have long-term consequences | Jonathan Wilson
If Belgium v Brazil were a head-to-head audition for Eden Hazard and Neymar to earn a move to Real Madrid – Hazard was the winner at the World Cup

Jonathan Wilson in Kazan

07, Jul, 2018 @11:37 AM

Article image
Harry Kane on course for Golden Boot despite waning impact in Russia
Antoine Griezmann or Kylian Mbappé will have to score four goals to deny England’s Harry Kane the World Cup Golden Boot

Martha Kelner at the St Petersburg Stadium

14, Jul, 2018 @7:08 PM

Article image
Belgium have the squad, Spain the swagger – but who will win in Russia?
Saudia Arabia are 2,000-1, but the chances are one of the top six in the bookies’ odds will lift the World Cup on 15 July

Nick Miller

09, Jun, 2018 @4:15 PM

Article image
World Cup 2018: England 0-1 Belgium – as it happened
Minute-by-minute report: Adnan Januzaj scored the only goal of a dull game, setting up a Belgium-Japan second-round clash, and sending England to a tie with Colombia. Scott Murray was watching.

Scott Murray

28, Jun, 2018 @8:18 PM

Article image
England fans concentrate on the long game after defeat by Belgium
It is not just the quality of opposition down the line that made second place appear attractive – England have reduced their travel time in the case of a successful run

Shaun Walker in Kaliningrad

29, Jun, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
England 0-1 Belgium: how the World Cup 2018 players rated in Kaliningrad | Martha Kelner
Jordan Pickford did not have a great night, Trent Alexander-Arnold showed promise while Marouane Fellaini put himself about as only he can

Martha Kelner at the Kaliningrad Stadium

28, Jun, 2018 @10:33 PM

Article image
Eden Hazard a constant threat but Belgium’s wing-backs let you in | Stuart James
England’s final group opponents pose danger in the attacking third but Roberto Martínez, Belgium’s coach, has said he may make changes

Stuart James in Moscow

25, Jun, 2018 @10:00 AM

Article image
Sweden 0-2 England: World Cup quarter-final player ratings
Jordan Pickford was the pick of England’s bunch while Sweden’s danger man Emil Forsberg was no match for Harry Maguire

Martha Kelner at the Samara Arena

07, Jul, 2018 @6:24 PM