International

Belgium take bronze

Eden Hazard found the net as he captained Belgium to their best-ever performance at a World Cup, beating England 2-0 to secure a third-place finish in Russia.

It was a good day for all three Chelsea players involved, with Hazard a constant threat and extending Belgium's lead just as England started to push for an equaliser, while Thibaut Courtois rarely looked threatened and Ruben Loftus-Cheek put in another performance full of promise in his fledgling international career.

All three started the third-place play-off, as both England and Belgium made changes to the sides which had lost in the semi-finals for their last match in Russia. The match had a strong Premier League feel to it, with 19 of the 22 players starting the game having played in the English top flight last season.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek came back into the England team for his second start of the tournament, in a revamped midfield as one of five changes for Gareth Southgate, alongside Fabian Delph and Eric Dier. The other new faces were wing-back Danny Rose and defender Phil Jones.

Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard both kept their places for Belgium as Roberto Martinez kept a strong line-up, although reverting to the 3-4-3 formation they began the World Cup with. Their only two changes from the semi-final loss to France saw Thomas Meunier return from suspension on the right and Youri Tielemans come into midfield in place of Marouane Fellaini.

It took only three minutes for Belgium to open the scoring, with their Blues duo combining to launch the attack. Courtois sent a quick ball up-field, which was headed inside by Hazard. That allowed Romelu Lukaku to set Nacer Chadli free down the left wing and find Meunier with a low cross for simple finish from close range. That meant Belgium had equalled an all-time World Cup record, with 10 different players scoring for the Red Devils at this tournament.

Hazard was proving a handful for England, soon after collecting the loose ball from a blocked Raheem Sterling shot and turning well to start a quick counter-attack, which ended with Jordan Pickford getting a hand to Kevin De Bruyne's deflected effort. Hazard then went close to carving out a chance for himself, but ran out of space after weaving his way into the penalty box.

Loftus-Cheek wasn't content to let his Chelsea team-mate have all the fun, though, but couldn't get enough on his header to trouble Courtois after jumping highest to meet Kieran Trippier's cross. In fact, Loftus-Cheek was looking like England's biggest threat, finding space in advanced positions and driving out of midfield at the Belgian defenders.

However, England's best chance of the opening half-an-hour fell to Harry Kane as the Three Lions started to control possession, when Sterling laid off Eric Dier's long pass, but the Tottenham striker rushed his shot and couldn't get it on target.

There was a first-half setback for Belgium, though, as an injury to Chadli forced Martinez to change things, bringing on Thomas Vermaelen for the West Brom winger.

England made two changes at half-time, with Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford coming on for Danny Rose and Sterling. It seemed to liven the Three Lions up immediately, with Loftus-Cheek driving deep into the Belgium penalty area with the ball again, before finally being dispossessed by Vincent Kompany.

However the game soon settled back into the pattern in which the first half had ended, with England enjoy the majority of the ball, but Belgium looking the most likely to score with their quick counter-attacks, Hazard repeatedly putting the defenders on the back foot with his trademark runs on the ball, Stones receiving a yellow card for one particularly desperate attempt to stop our winger from breaking forward.

Kane and Lukaku both came close to testing the goalkeepers as their battle for the Golden Boot continued, but neither quite managed to get on the end of good balls from Lingard and De Bruyne. Lukaku's hunt for more goals came to an end soon afterwards, as he was replaced by Dries Mertens with half-an-hour left to play.

However, England's biggest threat was coming from an unlikely source, with Dier drawing a comfortable low save from Courtois, having an effort cleared off the line by Toby Alderweireld and heading narrowly wide, all in quick succession.

The Three Lions were looking more dangerous, but again a sweep flowing counter involving Hazard nearly settled the match, needing a strong hand from Pickford to keep out Meunier's volley.

It was Hazard himself who put the game beyond England, though. He got the better of Jones, just as he had in the FA Cup final, beating the Manchester United man to get free and finish calmly at the near post from De Bruyne's through-ball. That made it three goals in six appearances for our number 10 at this World Cup.

That goal spelled the end of Loftus-Cheek's lively afternoon, being replaced by Dele Alli for the closing stages of the match, with the young midfielder again looking at home at the highest level.

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