Kevin de Bruyne’s vision took the breath away at Wembley… England deserved to win on the night but have some way to go to usurp Belgium as world No 1
- England rallied at Wembley to beat Belgium and top their Nations League group
- Marcus Rashford and Mason Mount found the target for the hosts on Sunday
- Romelu Lukaku was found in dominating form and Kevin de Bruyne also starred
- Belgium still remain the team to beat despite England completing the comeback
The platitudes from Gareth Southgate came out rat-a-tat-tat to illustrate the size of the peak he felt England had just scaled.
‘They are a top side,’ Southgate started with; he then referred to Belgium’s ability to cause problems, the quality they have on the ball. He spoke about them asking questions, he emphasised their technical ability and the depth of the squad.
‘The quality of the opponent we have played is the level we to aspire to a consistent basis,’ England’s head coach concluded. Southgate had every reason to feel content, as it is not very often the world’s number one team arrives in London and is promptly sent packing.
Kevin de Bruyne was wonderful for Belgium and will surely be the best midfielder at Euro 2020
Gareth Southgate has every reason to feel content after England rallied to defeat the visitors
England deserved this victory; for their perseverance and determination and refusal to sink in the tough moments, this was a significant feather in Southgate’s cap and the country’s most important result since beating Spain 3-2 in Seville two years ago.
But… There has to be a ‘but’. England may have won this battle but to win the war – and to usurp Belgium in the world rankings – there is some way to go. If you think this result means Belgium’s hopes of winning the European Championships are diminished, you should think again.
Roberto Martinez, Belgium’s head coach, may have squawked and chirped from the sidelines and scrunched his face when those fluent passing moves of his side went down dead ends but this was not a night that will have had him worried.
Roberto Martinez, the Belgium coach, will not be overtly worried despite his team’s defeat
In the first half, especially, there were moments when you felt the red swarm was going to repeatedly sting England. There was one 25 minute spell, during which time they took the lead, that Belgium showed why they sit atop of the rankings.
‘They made it tough for us and we were hanging in there,’ said Mason Mount, scorer of England’s decisive goal.
Everywhere you could see quality oozing: Yannick Carrasco had a goal disallowed, Thomas Castagne, Leicester’s summer signing, dashed forward with menace while Romelu Lukaku looked like he could flatten England’s defence whenever he saw fit.
Lukaku divides opinion. Perhaps it was the way his career at Manchester United was so underwhelming that has coloured views but do not doubt that if he puts it all together in a game, he could win a game singlehandedly.
Romelu Lukaku looked as though he would flatten England’s defence all night and also scored
Such is his physical strength and size, he can build up momentum like a bolder tumbling down a mountain. With a forward of his quality alone spearheading things – one of the top No9s in Europe – Belgium would be a threat to all.
Then, of course, there is Kevin De Bruyne. Maybe the Manchester City midfielder was not in his peak physical condition, something that could be explained by his 72nd minute substitution, but he still produced moments that took your breath away.
Take the pass to Carrasco, just before he departed. Pass, actually, makes it sound routine. This was artistic, a moment of beauty arched through England’s defence with the outside of his foot, rolling in the smooth, inexorable manner an accurate putt trundles towards a hole.
We know De Bruyne is wonderful, we say it every week. But, even still, he never loses that capacity to do something that makes you gasp during a match. He will be the best midfielder in the European Championships, so there is another string to the bow.
The Three Lions have moved to the top of their Nations League group after a superb comeback
Just as crucial in all this, however, were the ones who were absent. Martinez was missing six key personnel – the Hazard brothers, Eden and Thorgen, Thibaut Courtois, Jan Vertonghen, Dries Mertens and Thomas Vermaelen – and you can see what a difference they would have made.
Belgium, remember, beat England – and beat them comfortably – twice at the 2018 World Cup, one victory securing them the bronze medal. The gap may have closed between the nations but has it closed enough to indicate there will be a shift next summer?
For this, the reaction of the Belgian players at the final whistle was revealing. There was no anger, just respectful hugs. If Belgium thought they were under threat, it wouldn’t have been so convivial. England are still playing catch up.
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