Belgium beat England 2-0 on Saturday (July 14) in the consolation third/fourth place match to record their best ever World Cup finish. Goals from Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard were the difference in the end on paper but did not fully reflect the gulf in class between the two sides. England, game but outmatched, managed to trouble the Belgians for about 20 second-half minutes but were helpless to stop their group-stage rivals once the Belgians flipped the switch.
This game proved one thing for certain: the World Cup was never coming home.
Here's the lowdown for the game:
1. THE GOALS
Belgium 2 (Meunier 4th, Hazard 82nd) England 0
2. THE WOW MOMENT
For four minutes, Belgium played at full throttle as if they had forgotten that they were already out of the running for top honours. And within that four minutes, they scored. It was a marauding, devastating counter attack of the same vintage that felled Brazil in their quarter-final encounter, culminating in a pinpoint cross from Nacer Chadli converted by Thomas Meunier.
The Red Devils moved into high gear once more for the last 10 minutes, and the result was the second goal from Eden Hazard which killed off the English attempt at a comeback.
3. THE TALKING POINT
England are by no mean a bad side but Belgium are a very good one, perhaps even great. The gulf in quality between the two sides could not have been clearer in this game. Both teams had chances to score but where the Three Lions were largely dependent on set pieces, the Belgians conjured up marauding counter-attack after counter-attack and ultimately had the cutting edge to finish off those chances too.
England have flattered to deceive in Russia and surpassed all expectations. Neutral fans should reserve their pity for Belgium, the most deserving side not featuring in tomorrow's World Cup final.
4. THE STAR
Eden Hazard. The Chelsea man looked like he had a point to prove after the semi-final defeat to France and was at his quicksilver best against England, tormenting the English defence with mesmerising footwork and mazy runs. He fittingly got the last goal of a stirring Belgian World Cup campaign.
5. WHAT THE RESULT MEANS
The way Belgium decisively outplayed England in this one only further drives home the sad reality of tournament football - you can have two or three transcendent teams shooting for glory but only one of them can end up with the ultimate prize. Belgium played superbly this World Cup but unfortunately for them they came up short against an equally impressive French side.
For England, hopefully this loss will help temper expectations for the next major tournament. This is a young side that overachieved and heaping a mountain of pressure onto their shoulders to go all the way at Euro 2020 just because they made it to the last four here is the last thing these players need to continue their development.