England beat world No 1-ranked Belgium to go top of Nations League group

Mason Mount’s shot clipped Toby Alderweireld and looped over Simon Mignolet, powerless as he watched it arc into goal.

That’s how it goes sometimes. Not your day. Belgium were unbeaten for 13 games across two years coming to Wembley. 

They shouldn’t have lost either. But they got bogged down after half-time and England took advantage. They’re quite opportunistic under Gareth Southgate. 

Mason Mount (middle) scored a fortunate winner as England beat Belgium 2-1 at Wembley

Mount's strike took a wicked deflection off Spurs defender Toby Aldeweireld and into the net

Mount’s strike took a wicked deflection off Spurs defender Toby Aldeweireld and into the net

It’s one of their strengths. They win games that previous generations might have lost. They have probably played better than this, and lost too.

But not yesterday. Southgate’s England found a way to play underwhelmingly against the number one team in the world, yet still win. Make no mistake, there’s an art in that. When Germany used to do it, we were in awe.

For while the goal was blessed with good fortune, the build up had much to admire in it. There was a fine crossfield diagonal from Trent Alexander-Arnold which was kept in by Kieran Trippier. 

He was looking for Mount in a shooting position with an intelligent header back and once the Chelsea man had the ball at his feet, he was always looking to cut inside and have a pop.

The win sees Gareth Southgate (above)'s side move above Belgium in the Nations League table

The win sees Gareth Southgate (above)’s side move above Belgium in the Nations League table

Kevin De Bruyne (left) was hauled off by Roberto Martinez (middle) as he struggled in the game

Kevin De Bruyne (left) was hauled off by Roberto Martinez (middle) as he struggled in the game

When it did it spiralled viciously off Alderweireld’s boot, stranding Mignolet, but them’s the breaks. 

After that, England resisted Belgium pressure impressively and withdrawing Kevin De Bruyne after nearly putting in Yannick Carrasco after 66 minutes was another turning point.  

It says something that with the minutes ticking away it was Marcus Rashford MBE, not Romelu Lukaku XMU, that had the best chance to score, a shot from range that travelled narrowly over.

There was a significant period of the first-half here when it looked as if the game might get away from England. The Belgians were more fluid, better organised, more inventive, much as they had been at the World Cup in 2018. 

Both meetings in Russia came with caveats, the first a dead rubber after both had progressed from the group, the second a battle for an unloved third place. 

For all the limitations of the UEFA Nations League as an event, in a strange way this had more about it.

The match was played at an empty Wembley Stadium despite calls to bring fans back in

The match was played at an empty Wembley Stadium despite calls to bring fans back in

So Belgium’s early dominance was worrying. In the third minute, Youri Tielemans hit a sublime crossfield pass into the path of Kevin De Bruyne, which Declan Rice had to be at his most alert to cut out. 

Soon after, Yannick Carrasco hit Timothy Castagne on the overlap, his cross finding Romelu Lukaku, who should have done more with his header.

The pressure was building, however, and in the 15th minute England snapped. Eric Dier dived in on Lukaku, a slide tackle in the penalty area. Do that and you’ve got to come out with the ball, or at least noticeably get a fair portion of it. Dier did neither. 

He did send Lukaku tumbling, though, and referee Tobias Stieler of Germany appeared to get advice to point to the spot, despite initial reluctance.

Lukaku stepped up with one of those pitty-pat tiny footsteps runs and sent Jordan Pickford the wrong way. For the next 20 minutes or so, England fought to stay in the game. 

Belgium took the lead via Romelu Lukaku's early penalty from Eric Dier's foul on the striker

Belgium took the lead via Romelu Lukaku’s early penalty from Eric Dier’s foul on the striker

Roberto Martinez's side had a first-half goal by Yannick Carrasco ruled out for offside

Roberto Martinez’s side had a first-half goal by Yannick Carrasco ruled out for offside 

De Bruyne had a shot saved by Pickford, Thomas Meunier had one that went wide. Soon after Rice was booked for a foul on Axel Witsel. It was beginning to get away from England.

So it came as no small relief when referee Stieler gave his second penalty of the night and breathed life into what was an increasingly one-sided encounter. 

Meunier tugged Henderson’s shoulder and he went to ground with an audible cry. It is often said that foreign players are accused of tricking referee and a blind eye is turned to domestic ones, so let’s be plain: it looked soft. 

England equalised late in the first-half at Wembley through Marcus Rashford's spot kick

England equalised late in the first-half at Wembley through Marcus Rashford’s spot kick

England's penalty came after Thomas Meunier hold back Jordan Henderson from a corner

England’s penalty came after Thomas Meunier hold back Jordan Henderson from a corner

There was foul in there but whether it was enough to cause Henderson’s dramatic reaction is another matter. Marcus Rashford stepped up and levelled the scores. Given his prowess from the spot for England, he would have quite the record for Manchester United were it not for a certain Bruno Fernandes.

With two minutes remaining before half-time, Carrasco broke on the right and Kieran Trippier did well to put him off as his shot flew wide. It was their seventh of the half, to England’s one from the penalty spot.

Look at Sportsmail’s minute-by-minute coverage of the England win with SPENCER MORGAN.

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