79 min Grealish, 30 yards from own goal, loses Meunier with an outrageous, cushioned backheel over his own shoulder and sets off on the counter-attack. Eventually Kane’s cross takes a deflection and lands on the roof of the net. The skill from Grealish was glorious.
77 min: Good save from Pickford! Lukaku almost finished England off on the break. He knocked the ball in behind for Mertens, ran onto the return and hammered a low shot that Pickford saved with his legs.
75 min Rice wins the ball off Witsel 30 yards from goal but then a) picks the wrong pass (to Grealish rather than Kane) and b) overhits it.
73 min If it stays like this, Belgium will play Denmark in a winner-takes-all match on Wednesday.
70 min “Not particularly (59 min),” says Alan Hempton, “but I’d feel a lot safer with that back four than adding Eric Dier in the mix as a third centre half!”
Touché. I don’t really see the appeal of Dier at centre half either, although I have this nagging thought that Gareth Southgate and Jose Mourinho are probably better judges of a defender than I am.
69 min A double change for England: Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jadon Sancho replace Mason Mount and Kieran Trippier. That looks like a switch to 4-2-3-1: Grealish left, Sancho right, Kane behind Calvert-Lewin.
67 min Walker’s long-range stinger is blocked by a combination of Tielemans and Denayer.
67 min This has been a very efficient performance from Belgium, who haven’t really dominated at any stage of the match. They would argue, not unreasonably, that they haven’t needed to get out of second gear.
66 min Trippier is back on.
65 min Trippier looks pretty groggy and is being helped to the touchline.
63 min “Some thoughts about the two midfielders chosen,” says Chris Stevenson. “Both Rice and Henderson are good players in a different formation, but in this role you need players who can play on the half turn and receive the ball under pressure and thread it through to the front three efficiently, not just receive and go backwards or sideways slowly. Playing these two virtually negates being able to play through the middle of the pitch limiting our options. Winks is good in this role, it suits Phillips better than Rice and Mount can do it, but possibly doesn’t have the discipline you need against a top team.”
Phillips is an interesting option. I haven’t seen enough of him to categorically announce that he is the second coming, but he has different qualities to all the other midfielders.
62 min Hazard accidentally backheels Tripper in the face after being knocked up in the air himself. Trippier is down but I’m sure he’ll be fine.
61 min Grealish teases two defenders just inside the area, where he knows they can’t touch him, and then cracks a decent shot that flies a few yards over the bar.
59 min This is England’s best spell of the match. Rice plays a crisp pass into Mount, who takes it nicely in his stride on the edge of the area but then runs into trouble.
59 min “Hi Rob,” says Alan Hempton. “Can’t agree with your assertion that playing a back four is risky if you don’t have a world-class centre half. Most countries don’t have a world-class centre half, and more play with a back four than don’t. Picking a balanced back four which can cover each other’s weaknesses seems the way to go. Mings has been good on the left, so pick the most reliable right-footer and we’re good to go.”
When I said ‘world-class’, I was being polite. Let’s say you have a back four of James/Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Maguire (or Mings) and Chilwell, with protection from Rice and Henderson. Would you feel safe with that? I can understand Southgate’s slight caution, especially when he has all his forwards (and wing-backs, who are important in this system) available.
57 min A lovely backflick from Mount finds Kane on the edge of the area. He can’t quite the ball out of his feet, though, and his low shot is saved comfortably by Courtois.
56 min Saka goes over after a challenge from Menuier, who has just been booked. The referee decides it wasn’t a foul; had he given it, Meunier would probably have been sent off.
55 min Kane lands painfully on his back after a shove from Denayer. Belgium have been quite rough with England tonight. He’s okay to continue.
54 min Grealish is tripped this far outside the area by Meunier, and he is also booked. Grealish is pure class; I’m not interested in the alternative viewpoint.
52 min Mount’s free-kick goes miles over the bar. He’s a good player but he’s been really poor tonight.
51 min Kane is fouled just outside the area by Alderweireld, who is booked. Belgium’s players think there was a foul on Witsel just before that and are surrounding the referee. I think they have a point.
49 min “Even that makes no sense,” says Julian Menz, who isn’t letting this one go. “Two inside forwards, both lacking in pace, relying on the fullbacks to provide width, with two holding midfielders sitting deep, leaving a donut hole in the midfield. You mentioned the lack of top CBs, but if Southgate wants to accommodate two holding midfielders, he really has to revert to 4-3-3, with one of Grealish, Mount or Foden at the top of the midfield three.”
I don’t agree that Grealish lacks pace. He’s not blistering but he’s not slow – look at the third goal at Arsenal last weekend. I guess we’re not going to agree on this, so maybe it’s time to settle our differences like real men, on Twitter.
48 min Grealish is fouled for the 24th time tonight. He’s had a good game I think.
47 min England almost give Belgium another goal. Walker’s poor pass is intercepted by Mertens on the halfway line. He finds Lukaku, who finds De Bruyne, who drags a shot well wide.
England have made a half-time substitution, but it’s not the one we expected: Harry Winks is on for Jordan Henderson.
“Rob, wasn’t the match in England decided on a dodgy penalty and a deflected goal?” says Karl Debbaut. “Just saying.”
Aye, it was. I should stress I have no dog in this fight – I just don’t think England have played that badly.
“England won against Belgium last time slightly fortuitously,” says Felix Wood. “Looks like they’ll lose this time slightly unluckily. These are the fine margins that show that actually they’re now at the top table – no more heroic failure. International success is always tiny, tiny what-ifs either way. On the free kick – a mistake from the ref, but frankly an understandable one. Rice fouls more than he wins the ball. Absolute bobbins he is.”
That pay-off is the most unexpected twist I’ve seen since the Usual Suspects: positivity all the way and then a sudden evisceration of poor old Declan Rice. It’s almost Hitchcockian.
“I understand what you mean Rob (33 min), but that free-kick was just a yard or two outside the penalty area,” says Keith Sanderson. “What if that had been a striker that had used his hand to knock the ball past the defender and neither the ref nor the linesman had seen it, would you just say, tough luck? So long as it‘s applied with common sense and by competent people, it could benefit the game.”
The problem is, where do you draw the line? You can’t check everything. Do you go back to check the free-kick only if a goal is scored. That would be absurd. In principle I agree with you – it happened with France’s first goal in the World Cup final as well – but I’m just not sure how it would work in practice.
“England,” says Gary Naylor, “are playing like Leicester City without Jamie Vardy.”
I think you’re all being a wee bit harsh. England have had more shots, more possession and more corners. Don’t get me wrong, I would have started with Sancho, but I’ve seen far worse performances than this.
Half time: Belgium 2-0 England
Peep peep! England are going out of the Nations League. They haven’t played badly, and Belgium had a bit of good fortune with both their goals, but it’s hard to see a way back from here. Youri Tielemans’s low shot took a decisive deflection off Tyrone Mings, and then a dubious free-kick was curled majestically into the net by Dries Mertens.
45+1 min “I don’t want to be all doom and gloom, but this formation rubs me the wrong way in so many ways,” says Benjamin Park. “Our strength lies mostly in attack, while our midfield is also not bad. What we’re doing is sacrificing an A grade attack, so that our B- defence becomes a B. We get run over in midfield and run over in defence, because we don’t play a style that lets us keep the ball. We’ve got some great technical players and should use them far more. I’ll stop my ranting here before my own text causes an aneurysm.”
I know what you mean, but a back four would be a bit risky given the lack of a world-class centre-half.
45 min Two added minutes.
44 min: Good save from Courtois! Mount finds Kane in the inside-left channel in the penalty area. He wriggles away from Denayer and forces a shot that is blocked at the near post by the well positioned Courtois. The resulting corner is headed a few uyards wide by Mount.
40 min “Rob, this only goes to show how overrated Premier League is with all its players,” says Jukka Itäkylä. Just bare it down to only British – let alone English – and you’ve got nothing left at all.”
I’m all for jumping to conclusions, but cancelling English football on the basis of a deflected goal and a dodgy free-kick, in a match where they are without half their first choice XI, feels slightly excessive.
38 min Chilwell isn’t okay to continue: he has been replaced by Bukayo Saka. It looks like the dreaded muscle injury for Chilwell.
37 min “The point Jamie Carragher made about England’s lack of pace is one of the reasons I wouldn’t have played two central midfielders on the flanks,” says Julian Menz.
They’re not really playing on the flanks – they’re more like old-fashioned inside forwards. I’d argue Grealish isn’t really a central midfielder anyway; he has barely played in that position for Villa in the Premier League.
35 min Ben Chilwell is receiving treatment for something or other. I think he’s okay to continue.