ST PETERSBURG • Belgium beat England 2-0 in the World Cup third-place play-off yesterday to secure their best-ever finish at a World Cup and send Gareth Southgate's side home with a second straight loss.
A fourth-minute goal from Thomas Meunier and an 82nd-minute Eden Hazard strike earned Belgium the victory and third place, which improves on their previous best performance of a fourth-place finish in 1986.
England were on top for most of the second half but, with captain Harry Kane looking tired, Belgium's greater sharpness in the final third proved decisive.
Meunier's goal came after Romelu Lukaku swung the ball out left to Nacer Chadli, who burst down the wing and slipped the ball across the face of the goal and the midfielder confidently slotted past Jordan Pickford.
Goals Eden Hazard has been directly involved in his last 25 games with Belgium (12 goals, 13 assists).
The goal means Belgium have had 10 different scorers at this World Cup - equalling the record set by France in 1982 and Italy in 2006. Belgium boss Roberto Martinez said: "It's all about the achievement, this is Belgium's best finish at a World Cup. The players deserve that and they wanted to make the country proud.
"We had 10 different goal scorers, the joint best in World Cup history. This team have broken records in the right way."
Belgium also became just the fourth side to win six games (penalty shoot-outs counted as draws) at a World Cup but not win the title, after Poland (1974, third), Italy (1990, third) and the Netherlands (2010, runners-up).
While England manager Gareth Southgate made five changes to the side who lost to Croatia in the semi-finals, Martinez made just two switches.
Meunier returned after missing the semi-final loss to France due to suspension, and Youri Tielemans was given a start ahead of Maroune Fellaini in midfield with the Belgians fielding their strong front three of Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard.
De Bruyne should have made it 2-0 in the 12th minute when the ball found him at the back post after a slip-up from John Stones, but his poorly struck shot was easily dealt with by Pickford.
Kane, the tournament's top scorer with six goals, had a chance when set up by Raheem Sterling in the 24th minute, but was off-balance as he screwed his shot wide.
Southgate brought on Marcus Rashford for Sterling and Jesse Lingard for Danny Rose at the break and the changes worked well, with England on top in the second half.
Toby Alderweireld was forced to clear an Eric Dier effort off his line at full stretch, after a neat exchange between the Tottenham midfielder and Rashford ended with a chip over Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Dier and then Harry Maguire both headed wide from promising positions, while at the other end Meunier went close to a second with a powerful volley that Pickford did well to save.
But the game was wrapped up when de Bruyne burst from midfield and slipped the ball through to Hazard, who glided past Phil Jones and fired into the bottom corner.
"This game showed there is still room for improvement. We're not the finished article, we're still improving and will only get better," Kane said. "We don't want to wait another 20 years to get into the semi-finals and the big matches. We need to improve, we need to get better but that will come."
England had more possession (57 per cent to 43 per cent), took more shots (15 to 12) and had more efforts on target (five to four) but could not get on the scoresheet.
"Obviously I'm disappointed I couldn't get a goal in the last few games," said Kane. "Sometimes it goes for you, sometimes it doesn't.
"But if I win (the Golden Boot award), it'll be something I'll be very proud of."