MOSCOW — Adnan Januzaj curled in a left-footed shot in the second half to give a second-string Belgium a 1-0 victory over a second-string England on Thursday. The win continued Belgium’s strong start to the World Cup — it joined Croatia and Uruguay as the only teams to win all three games in the group stage — but it set the Red Devils on a potentially far more difficult path in the knockouts.
[Up Next: Follow our live coverage of England vs. Colombia]
Belgium won the game in Kaliningrad despite making nine changes to its lineup, and amid a discussion about whether it might be better to finish second in the group instead of winning it.
With its victory, Belgium won its third game at the World Cup but advanced to what most consider the tougher side of the knockout-round bracket, one that includes Brazil, Mexico, France, Argentina, Uruguay and Portugal.
England, which made eight changes to its starting lineup in an effort to rest its stars, probably will see value in landing where it did. Its side of the knockout round includes Spain and Croatia, but it would not see either of them until the semifinals — if the English advance that far.
The England-Colombia winner would play the victory of Sweden-Switzerland in the quarterfinals.
“We want to win every game and we’re disappointed we couldn’t do that today,” England midfielder Eric Dier said. “I thought it was quite an even game. We created some good chances. We needed to finish one of them, that was all that was missing really.”
Januzaj’s goal was a moment of individual excellence in a match that didn’t show much of it. Collecting a ball on Belgium’s right wing, he cut inside Danny Rose to get the ball on his left foot and curled his shot high and around the diving goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
If England declares itself fine with the outcome — it tried to win a match many said it would be better off losing, and wound up with a preferable path in the knockouts anyway — it did not discover a player that will give Gareth Southgate pause to consider a change when he makes out his lineup for Colombia. England lacked imagination and, without striker Harry Kane and forwards Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling, anything looking like true menace up front.
Belgium Coach Roberto Martinez got some gritty work in the midfield from Marouane Fellaini, Moussa Dembele and Nacer Chadli. But Belgium’s best face is an attacking one, and when Martinez gets Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku back in the next round, he and his team will be looking to make a deep run, despite the heavyweights that await on Belgium’s side of the bracket. First, though, comes Japan.
“You cannot plan the ideal scenario; you’ve seen big nations already eliminated,” Martinez said. “We need to look at ourselves.”
Here’s how Belgium beat England:
Now it’s Fellaini’s turn: he blasts from 10 yards on the left into the side netting. Nervous moment for people lacking depth perception, but the ball was outside the post, not in. Back up field we go, where England promptly loses possession. I think we’re done here.
Batshuayi beats two defenders on the end line and breaks in on Pickford. At the last moment he centers, but in the scramble there’s no shot — except the one on Pickford that draws a whistle and ends the threat.
England has only three minutes of added time to bring back the Fair Play debate.
Dries Mertens almost makes it 2-0! Fellaini leads a breakout and feeds Hazard up the left side. A cross and a layoff tee up Mertens, but his shot is blocked by a defender on the way in, and we keep our 1-0 scoreline.
Belgium sub: Dries Mertens on for the scorer, Adnan Januzaj.
Warm greeting on the bench for Januzaj from Thierry Henry, the French World Cup winner who is now a member of Martinez’s coaching staff.
England goes close again — a corner falls to Rose, it appears, but his hard, low shot is deflected halfway to Courtois. It goes out for another corner, but this time Courtois just comes out and catches it before anyone gets any ideas.
Five Englishmen collect over a free kick, including two defenders. Hmmmm...... thoughts, guys?
Rashford wins the debate. He’ll take it. He sends it over the bar! Close, but comfortably over.
Another sub for England: Danny Welbeck for Alexander-Arnold. That’s a striker for a wing back, so clearly Southgate’s going to give this a go.
Fair play to him, the English would say. Though if Welbeck scores, we’ll be back to talking about a different kind of Fair Play.
Back at the other end now, Fellaini sends in a super cross to ... no one. Chadli corrals it on the far sideline. Belgium cycles all the way back to Courtois. Safety first.
An England free kick finds Maguire at the back post and he heads back across into the center, but Courtois charges and pulls it out of the air with one hand like an N.F.L. receiver.
Jamie Vardy, trucked over by Fellaini, appeals to the referee for a foul as if he’s never seen Fellaini do that to hundreds of other players. Odd.
Change for Belgium: Vincent Kompany, the team’s usual captain, comes on for Vermaelen, who departs with tape holding a cut on his left eyebrow closed.
Adnan Januzaj, today’s goalscorer, committed to play for Belgium before the 2014 World Cup. But as a native of Kosovo, he also was eligible to play for Kosovo, Albania, Serbia and even Turkey because of his heritage. England even made a pitch to him back then, when he was seen as a rising star at Manchester United, but he stuck with Belgium.
England plays a little head tennis in the area and the ball falls to Fabian Delph just outside it. Taking the high bounce deftly, he slams a shot into the turf to keep it on line and its deflects off a defender — but not toward the goal, and Belgium clears.
Harry Kane, socks up, now actively warming up by running along the sideline.
Rashford breaks in alone! Dendonker lost him and he’s free — but NOOOOOO! He send his shot wide, with the help of a deflection.
That Rashford chance was even better than it looked on replay. It appeared Courtois got a finger on the shot at best. What a great chance that was to pull the teams even again.
The answer to the question a few minutes ago was no. England now working the ball around in its back three — but wait .........
Then they do it again, up the left. Might we have some action in our future?
England presses up the right but is called for offside, a rare bit of adventure clearly not in keeping with the last few minutes.
Belgium’s defense plays it back to the goalkeeper Courtois, he types, hoping that’s not what the last half hour will look like.
Amazing slow-motion replay of the Januzaj goal there. Not the goal itself, which was fine, but Batshuayi picking up the ball out of the net and drop-kicking it in celebration — right off the post and back into his face!!
Thomas Vermaelen is down injured, which is sadly the story of his career. He knocked heads with an England player there. Trainer checking him.
Hazard, on the counter, feeds Januzaj in the same spot where he scored. But he pauses too long, looking to cut back, and instead tries to nutmeg his man. Yeah, that wasn’t ever going to work.
Oh well. Alexander-Arnold hits the Belgian wall in the waist, which is about the worst thing you could do there. That may have been his last free kick for a while.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek is trucked at the top of the circle and England has a dangerous free kick. “OH YOU WANT JAPAN? NO, WE WANT JAPAN BUDDY!!!!”
England striker Harry Kane is shown pulling up his socks. It’s probably not because his calves are cold. Harry Kane wants to play.
Adnan Januzaj, the former Manchester United winger, scores it by turning Rose in the area and lashing a left-footed shot inside the far post.
Jordan Pickford dives to make it look good in the photos but never had a chance. Belgium leads, 1-0, but surrenders its well-earned Fair Play tiebreaker edge. Win some, lose some I guess.
Matthew Futterman: It’s amazing how much the sport changes when players dial back the contact by 50 percent. No one really runs through tackles and you really remove so much of the aggression and risk.
Vardy creates what amounts to a chance for Rashford, stealing a weak clearing header and feeding him in the area. But he curls his right-footed shot wide.
One sub for England at halftime: Harry Maguire comes on for Stones, who looked to be getting some minor treatment on his left calf on the bench. Looks like Maguire will play on the left in the back three, with Cahill, a more tradtional center back, sliding into the middle. We’re back under way.
No changes for Belgium.
Belgium leads five yellow cards to two, which means England would go through if this result holds. Let’s hope it doesn’t, because it’d be nice to see a goal. Or a shot or two on target. Or some running. Something. Anything.
Matthew Futterman: It’s halftime, and the actual England takes the field to kick the ball around. Kane, Sterling and Co. This match feels more like a friendly. Belgium’s manager, Roberto Martinez, said yesterday the game would be a “celebration.” That’s one word for it.
More boos as Belgium passes the ball around. This isn’t an amateur crowd, and THEY WILL NOT BE MOCKED BY YOU BELGIUM.
Russian TV just showed Hazard, Lukaku and De Bruyne on the bench and I’m hoping they didn’t show that in the stadium because that would have been serious trolling of this crowd after what we’ve seen from their replacements.
No goals and the only highlights of the half are the two Belgium yellows, a mockery of the notion of fair play that will not go unpunished when the history of this tournament is writ .... kidding. They were both yellows, and it’s hard to get mad about either, even if you’re English.
Nice one-two by Fellaini and Batshuayi in the area yields a shot for a late-arriving Hazard. He makes one fan in Row LL very happy with his shot. The rest of us? Less so.
Batshuayi nods it on at the near post, but there’s no one at the back one. Oops. Then Vardy and Rashford force a turnover in Belgium’s end and try to break in 2-on-2, but Rashford’s cross is a touch high, and Vardy only gets a glancing noggin on it.
The crowd has a short fuse for even the hint of time-wasting, or stalling. They whistle even if it looks like someone is thinking about not pressing forward.
The free kick is cleared, but only for a corner. Another bite at the apple, but Loftus-Cheek — at the spot — heads wide.
Matthew Futterman: Belgium free kicks and corners are fascinating because everyone in the building knows it’s going to Fellaini, and there isn’t a darn thing anyone can do about it because the dude is so tall.
Here’s something: a foul on the left — Dendoncker runs over Rose — yields a free kick. A chance perhaps? (Dendoncker gets a YELLOW there, and Belgium is clearly not tanking against England in the Fair Play points column).
First sign of trouble in the stands: they’re trying to start the wave.
Trent Alexander-Arnold fires a cross in from the right that doesn’t even raise an eyebrow from Courtois, but maybe it should have — it comes a few feet from tucking inside his back post.
Now it’s Loftus-Cheek’s turn. He slips a defender by literally ducking under him as he runs right over him, but unwisely passes back to Dier, who promptly gives it to Belgium.
And another shot for Belgium. Alexander-Arnold, guarding his right post, pokes away Fellaini’s effort.
The night’s first whistles as Belgium methodically passes the ball back and forth in the back. The fans in Kaliningrad didn’t come to watch slow dancing. Batshuayi promptly gives them what they want: he breaks into the area on the right and gets off a shot.
Matthew Futterman: The whistles are getting pretty loud in the stadium, which is a mostly neutral crowd. It may actually be the most international stadium here because Kaliningrad is an exclave and we’re basically tucked in a corner between Lithuania and Poland. Wherever they are from, the crowd isn’t real happy to be watching a kickaround.
Two sort-of risky plays at the back there: Stones nearly giving up possession to Bat Batshuayi as he presses, and then Jones with a giveaway trying to thread the needle from right back.
Danny Rose strips Januzaj and is hauled down by Tielemans, who gets a yellow. Guess what folks: that means England is now TWO YELLOWS ahead on Fair Play points now. They’d win the group as it stands.
Matthew Futterman: I was about to say this was the cleanest game I’ve seen in three World Cups because no one wants to get hurt and no one wants more yellow cards ... and then Fellaini clotheslined Loftus-Cheek.
England’s wing backs, Danny Rose and Trent Alexander-Arnold, are defenders by trade but love to get forward. In England’s three-back setup, they are being encouraged to do it, and they seem to like the idea.
Belgium is playing the same way — with three center backs and midfield cover — but their help is in the center.
Thorgen Hazard, by the way, is the younger brother of Eden. He had a brief spell at Chelsea a few years ago but has played for Borussia Moenchengladbach in Germany since 2014.
Now it’s England’s turn to get a header close in, but its attempt at the back post is stuffed and we remain scoreless.
It sure doesn’t look like anyone’s playing for a tie, or to lose, at this point. Lots of intent both ways. Vardy just shot a header wide again after a good run on the right by Rashford.
What just happened?!?! Belgium crosses and Fellaini nods the ball back into the center for Batshuayi. But he can’t get a clean hit under pressure from Stones, and Pickford falls on it — only to let it squeeze out and roll toward to line. Cahill, it seems, saw what was happening and slashed the ball away. But that could have been a disaster for England.
Huge chance for Belgium there but Youri Tielemans’ long, dipping shot is pushed away by Jordan Pickford before it can dive under the crossbar. That one came a long way and in a hurry, but he got his hands up in the nick of time.
So many Premier League club connections on the field tonight: Rashford and Jones with Fellaini at Manchester United, Rose and Dier with Dembele at Tottenham, Courtois and Batshuayi (now gone) with Cahill through Chelsea. And on and on ......
Horrible giveaway on Belgium’s left sends England in on goal, but the cross for Rashford at the spot is kicked away by Courtois.
Marcus Rashford tries to spring Jamie Vardy with the first real action, but he hits a 50-yard ball when 15 would have done.
England in white shirts and blue shorts tonight if you’re reading along, Belgium all in red. Here we go.
England starts Phil “Walking Yellow Card” Jones in defense in a subtle attempt to level Fair Play points early.
Matthew Futterman: My one big issue with the Southgate lineup is playing Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has a yellow card and misses the next game with another one. That’s a dumb risk. Just have Danny Welbeck play midfield. This game does not really matter.
A couple of former England World Cup players weigh in:
It’s also worth noting that while England and Belgium have not sent out their first teams, they are not sending out teams of plasterers, longshoreman and accountants, either.
Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy score goals for a living, could probably get two be accident in any game, and would surely like to show Gareth Southgate they should play again in the World Cup. The same goes for Michy Batshuayi. nd if you don’t think Marouane Fellaini wouldn’t like to beat England, or anyone else for that matter, well, ......
England vs. Belgium is seen by some as a game neither team particularly wants to win. Sure, they’d rather win the group. But the group winner goes into what most consider a far stronger side of the knockout round bracket — alongside France, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. The runnerup faces what, on paper, is a far less daunting path, and one that avoids the only true contender (Spain) until the semifinals.
• There’s still some serious debate online and on the NYT text messenger (you can still sign up!) about whether these teams should play to win or try to slide over into that perceived “safer” side of the knockout bracket. But it’s hard to tell reserves not to play in what may be their only World Cup minutes ever.
Of course, everyone is in favor of honor and momentum until honor and momentum have you playing Brazil in the quarterfinals while the other guy is running out against Switzerland.
Belgium and England are on a combined run of 31 games without a loss.
England and Belgium have only met twice at a World Cup. In 1954, they finished with a wild, 4-4 draw. In 1990, David Platt scored in extra time to give England the 1-0 victory. In 21 matchups across all competitions, England have lost to Belgium only once (3-2 in May, 1936).
The second-string lineups, which were telegraphed by both coaches, leave quite a bit on the bench: Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and the injured Romelu Lukaku, among others, for Belgium. And Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Jesse Lingard sit for England, at least to start.
Goalkeeper: 1 Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea)
Defenders: 20 Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), 3 Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), 23 Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht)
Midfielders: 19 Mousa Dembele (Tottenham), 8 Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), 16 Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Monchengladbach), 18 Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), 17 Youri Tielemans (Monaco)
Forwards: 21 Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea), 22 Nacer Chadli (West Brom)
Goalkeeper: 1 Jordan Pickford (Everton)
Defenders: 15 Gary Cahill (Chelsea), 16 Phil Jones (Manchester United), 5 John Stones (Manchester City)
Midfielders: 4 Eric Dier (Tottenham), 21 Ruben Loftus Cheek (Chelsea), 22 Trent Alexander Arnold (Liverpool), 3 Danny Rose (Tottenham), 17 Fabian Delph (Manchester City)
Forwards: 19 Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), 11 Jamie Vardy (Leicester)
Not everyone is buying in to the ‘England should try to lose the group’ theory. Count Paul Hayward of the Daily Telegraph in the just-keep-winning camp. “Keep winning, keep developing, don’t assume they’d beat Sweden or Switzerland, don’t assume they’d lose to Brazil (who may not beat Mexico),” Hayward wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “Leave all that stuff to clairvoyants. Just win games.”
England’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek and other players were sending the same message — don’t try to game the standings; just win — after England’s 6-1 demolition of Panama. ”We don’t want to take our foot off the gas with the performances we are putting in right now,” he said.
Added defender John Stones: ”I want to win. If you go into it with a different mind-set, that second’s better, it doesn’t end well in my previous experience.”
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