|Fabian Delph (L) of England vies with Leander Dendoncker of Belgium during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Group G match between England and Belgium in Kaliningrad, Russia, June 28, 2018. Belgium won 1-0. England and Belgium advanced to the round of 16. — Photo Xinhua|
KALININGRAD — Belgium remained unbeaten in Russia World Cup as they defeated England in the Kaliningrad Stadium Thursday night and will face Japan in the knockout stage.
England, who have won only two knockout matches in the past three decades, reached the last 16 as runner-up to face Colombia.
Both teams had brilliant records in previous two rounds of group matches, which ensured them early tickets to the round of 16.
Level on points, goal difference and goals scored, Thursday’s game would be decisive for the ranking.
The goal was scored in the 51st minute, as Adnan Januzaj cut in from the right, passed over Tottenham Hotspur defender Danny Rose and thwacked a shot into the net.
England almost equalized 15 minutes later, with the dribbling Marcus Rashford facing Belgium’s goalkeeper one-to-one. It was the best chance for England but the Manchester United striker had his shot right wide.
They went close against 10 minutes before the full-time stroke with a free-kick 27 meters from the goal. Rashford aimed at the top-right corner but the ball flew over the bar.
Then Ruben Loftus-Cheek blazed down the right, before curling the shot again over the bar.
When it came to stoppage time, Belgium nearly doubled the lead. Substitute Dries Mertens lashed a dipping strike which was palmed out by Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
The match was watched by close to 34,000 spectators in the tournament’s westernmost destination.
Both teams played a changed team, with England resting eight of their players from the previous match and Belgium nine, including top scorer Harry Kane who had five goals, Romelu Lukaku who had four and Eden Hazard, man of last match.
England started the game with more possession, but it was Belgium who appeared more menacing.
The 6th minute saw Belgium’s first threat, when Youri Tielemans received a pass from the right and slammed at the net from about 23 meters away. Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford made an excellent save.
Four minutes later, Adnan Januzaj delivered a cross to Marouane Fellaini, who nodded on it. Pickford tried to save but the ball rolled through him towards the line. It was Chelsea defender Gary Cahill who managed a last-second clearance.
Belgium gradually shifted the balance thereafter.
Michy Batshuayi, the Borussia Dortmund forward who had a stoppage-time goal against Tunisia, caused chaos for the Three Lions before the half-hour mark, which was later joined by Fellaini and Januzaj. It took some efforts from John Stones, Loftus-Cheek and Rashford to save the team amid scramble.
Shortly after that Trent Alexander-Arnold won a free-kick. He found Loftus-Cheek, who flicked the header wide.
Should the match continue to be fruitless, ranking will be decided by disciplinary record. Belgium players Leander Dendoncker and Youri Tielemans were booked in the first half.
"The victory is a consequence of a very good performance," said Roberto Martinez, coach of Belgium.
The team who top the group will face Japan in the last 16 round, but, if win, are likely to have a bumpy road ahead against Brazil, France, Portugal or Argentina. However, no team which finished second in the group stages has won the World Cup since 1986.
"You cannot plan the ideal scenario, you’ve seen big teams already eliminated," he said. "We need to look at ourselves, we are a stronger group than we were before the game. We’re facing Japan, we’ve got to be ready for it."
While England coach Gerath Southgate said that it was an even game. "The players who have played tonight have given absolutely everything and never stopped. Everyone’s seen the level that we’ve been playing at and we’ve got to keep improving," he said.
Talking about his opponent, he said:"They had better controlled possession than us at times...This was a game that we wanted to win, but the knockout game is the biggest game for a decade for us so we had to make sure our key players were preserved." — XINHUA