Belgium beat England by two goals to nil in the battle for third place in St Petersburg on Saturday.
Gareth Southgate’s team were unable to bounce back from the despair of Wednesday’s extra-time loss against Croatia in the semi-final in Moscow – but this still represents a highly creditable tournament for England.
Thomas Meunier put Belgium ahead after just four minutes when he slid in ahead of Danny Rose to divert Nacer Chadli’s cross past goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
10 – Thomas Meunier is the 10th different player to score for Belgium at the 2018 World Cup – the joint-most different scorers for a team at a single World Cup (also 10 for France in 1982 and Italy in 2006). Spread. #BELENG #BEL #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/ACnK9xvP14
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 14, 2018
England had chances to level in the second half as Toby Alderweireld cleared off the line from Eric Dier, while Harry Maguire also headed wide from a good position.
Eden Hazard wrapped it up for Belgium with eight minutes left when he got the better of Phil Jones to beat Pickford, who had just saved magnificently from Meunier, with a powerful finish.
Eden Hazard’s 2018 World Cup by numbers:
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 14, 2018
Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku missed two chances and was substituted without scoring, leaving England captain Harry Kane in pole position to win the World Cup’s Golden Boot with six goals.
Belgium’s delight at a third-place finish – their best at a World Cup – was obvious in the manner in which Martinez and his assistant Thierry Henry celebrated with their players at full-time.
It meant a lot – although it could have been even better after beating Brazil in the quarter-finals only to then lose to France in the last four.
However, Martinez has a truly outstanding squad at his disposal and there is every chance they will now get stronger having gained stature here.
Any squad that boasts the attacking firepower they have in De Bruyne, Hazard and Lukaku, as well as their strength of squad elsewhere, is a force to be reckoned with – and this may be only the start of Belgium’s story as a rising football force.