England came from behind to overcome the world’s top-ranked team Belgium and record an important Nations League victory at Wembley on Sunday.
Belgium took a lead their early superiority deserved when Romelu Lukaku sent England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford the wrong way after the striker had been brought down by Eric Dier’s poor challenge.
England were on the back foot for most of the first half but were handed a lifeline back into the game six minutes before half-time when captain Jordan Henderson went down very easily in a tussle with Thomas Meunier, Marcus Rashford scoring from the spot.
Gareth Southgate’s side enjoyed much more possession after the break but needed a large slice of luck to take the lead after 64 minutes, Mason Mount’s effort deflecting off Toby Alderweireld and looping over keeper Simon Mignolet to inflict Belgium’s first loss since November 2018.
England were very much second best until they got a rather soft penalty when Henderson tumbled under a challenge from Meunier – but the way they gathered themselves after the break to subdue this talented Belgium side deserves great credit.
Southgate’s side were very conservative in the opening spell of the game, rather like his team selection, but the manager will say the end result justified the means, although this was a game where both sides were also missing key individuals.
England held firm at the back and were resolute, limiting Belgium to one clear opening after the break when Yannick Carrasco flicked Kevin de Bruyne’s brilliant pass inches wide of the far post.
Goalkeeper Pickford, who retained Southgate’s faith despite poor form for Everton, was not placed under huge pressure but mostly did what he had to do competently, with one first-half save from De Bruyne’s low shot and a couple of decent pieces of handling.
The bigger picture, apart from putting England top of Group A2, is that this is a victory that will give Southgate real satisfaction as it is the sort of game against elite opposition where his side have been found wanting in the past, not least when they lost twice to Belgium at the 2018 World Cup, in the group stage and the third-place play-off.