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2020-21 UEFA Nations League, Group Stage
  • Youri Tielemans (10')
  • Dries Mertens (24')

Belgium beat England to stay atop UEFA Nations League group

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Belgium blank England 2-0 in Nations League play (1:31)

Youri Tielemans and Dries Mertens get the goals to down England 2-0. Watch Nations League on ESPN+. (1:31)

Belgium rode two first-half goals to a 2-0 UEFA Nations League win over England on Sunday night.

Youri Tielemans fired the hosts in front inside of 10 minutes with a low line drive that took a slight deflection to beat Jordan Pickford in the England goal.

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Belgium went two clear midway through the first half with a spectacular free kick from Dries Mertens that went up and over the wall before flying past Pickford at the near post.

England needed a win to put themselves back in the frame for a place in the Nations League finals, but Gareth Southgate's side found themselves chasing the game after Tielemans put the hosts in front after 10 minutes.

England looked more dangerous in the second half, but couldn't convert either of a pair of free kicks just outside the area and Harry Kane saw a good chance from 15 yards away save by Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois.

Roberto Martinez's Belgium held on with few real alarms after that against an unimaginative England side and must now avoid defeat on Wednesday against Denmark, who beat Iceland 2-1, to finish top of the group.

"We got the early lead then we had to suffer and see the press and risks that England took," Martinez said.

"We were always in control at 2-0, sometimes it can be dangerous, you feel comfortable but we defended Thibaut Courtois's goal very well."

England were architects of their own downfall.

After 10 minutes a casual pass out from the back by Eric Dier was snaffled by Belgium and when the ball was played forward to Romelu Lukaku he squared it to Tielemans.

The Leicester City player's shot was well hit but skimmed off the leg of Tyrone Mings and although keeper Pickford got his fingertips to it, the ball went in off the post.

Jack Grealish went close to an immediate response for England when he connected with Kieran Trippier's low cross but Toby Alderweireld did well to block.

Belgium's second goal came from a harshly-awarded free kick against Declan Rice on Kevin De Bruyne.

Yet there was no doubting the quality of Mertens' finish as he curled the ball over the wall and inside the post.

Harry Winks replaced Jordan Henderson after halftime for England, who were missing the injured Raheem Sterling, but it made little difference to their potency.

The bright spot for England was Grealish who followed up his fine performance in the 3-0 friendly win against Ireland this week with another confident performance display.

Defeat was Southgate's 10th while in charge of England from 48 games, but skipper Kane felt England were unlucky.

"We were dominant. We were unlucky to concede the two goals," he said. "A deflection and I don't think the second was a free kick. A lot of positives to take.

"I thought Jack Grealish had an absolutely outstanding game," Southgate said. "Losing Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, we lose a lot of speed. But I can't fault the attacking play until the last chance.

"We created far more opportunities than we did at Wembley. I saw what I knew I would see from Jack, someone with the bravery to play. He took the ball in tight areas, his technique was good, we knew he would buy a lot of free kicks.

"He played with huge belief and character."

A second successive defeat for England, after a home loss to Denmark, left them in third place in the group with one match to come at home to Iceland next week.

The result means Belgium have secured a spot in the Nations League finals.