England vs Belgium: 'It's all wrong'
BELGIUM defeated England for just the second time ever as it overcame the Three Lions 1-0 to finish top of Group G.
Both countries were assured of progressing to the knockout stages and made a raft of changes to put out what were largely second-string sides. Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku were missing for Belgium while England captain Harry Kane was benched.
Before the match there was much discussion about whether it was better to finish first or second in the group. Whichever team finished second in Group G goes into what's considered an easier side of the draw with countries like Russia, Denmark and Switzerland, but whoever finished top goes into the other half of the draw with sides like Brazil, Portugal and Uruguay - considered a tougher route to the final.
Neither England nor Belgium offered much in the first 45 minutes as the match resembled a friendly more than a World Cup clash. There was no intensity and neither side showed any killer instinct.
Belgium earned two yellow cards in the first half - giving it five for the tournament compared to England's two. A draw would have put both sides equal on points, goal difference and head-to-head, meaning whoever had the most yellow cards would finish second.
This feels wrong! No question it’s best to finish 2nd in the group but if winning has been ingrained into you for all your life, how are you supposed to approach this game?— michael owen (@themichaelowen) 28 June 2018
At halftime SBS football analyst Craig Foster suggested Belgium receiving two yellows was a tactical move and criticised the disrespect both sides showed to the fans, who were jeering and whistling throughout the boring opening stanza.
"The whistling and clapping from the crowd probably took more energy than what the 22 players put on the field," Foster said. "Trying to analyse it is a challenge. I considered putting the two Belgium yellow cards on here and working through tactically how they made that happen … that is the tactical element of the game.
"Let's show the game some respect, something that both these teams aren't doing.
"In the first half we couldn't quite work out, 'Are these people here trying to do something or are we going to have to sit through this?' People were whistling, slow clapping and it was clear that the crowd and I think everyone watching at home wasn't pleased by halftime."
Foster's colleague and former star David Zdrilic added: "It has a feel of a training run.
"They know the better half of the draw is if you come second and it is all playing on the players' minds a bit."
This is all wrong. England have arrogantly assumed we’ll get through to the quarter-finals, picked a weak team & played weakly. What if we now lose to Colombia? Madness. #ENGvBEL— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) 28 June 2018
However, the second half was a much more exciting affair and neither side could be accused of not trying to win. The intensity lifted and both teams pressed forward with more purpose.
Belgian young gun Adnan Januzaj showed real class by drifting into the box, wrong-footing his defender and curling a shot into the top corner to open the scoring after 50 minutes.
"Once Januzaj scored then the game opened up and it was clear that England were trying to get back in the game and clear that Belgium were trying to win by a bigger margin," Foster said. "I congratulate both of them otherwise there would have been huge questions raised."
Marcus Rashford had the chance to bring the scores level for England when he was one-on-one with the keeper but he put his shot wide.
Belgium almost drew first blood after 10 minutes when England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford somehow spilled the ball after falling on it, leading to a goalmouth scramble before one of his defenders cleared the ball off the line.
Youri Tielemans was shown a yellow card for a cynical challenge on Danny Rose, but England was unable to make the most of a set piece in prime attacking territory.
After 25 minutes Marouane Fellaini tried to test Pickford after chesting down a corner, but his clever strike was cleared off the line by a defender at the far post.
England's Trent Alexander-Arnold almost hit the target with a cross that turned into an accidental shot from wide on the right that just curled away from goal.
England will play Colombia while Belgium takes on Japan in the round of 16.