Mason Mount’s second England goal earned the Three Lions a 2-1 victory over Belgium at Wembley this afternoon.
Mount played 89 minutes in a wide attacking position, and provided the decisive moment midway through the second half with a deflected strike. The result moves England above Belgium, the world’s top-ranked country, in Group A2 of UEFA Nations League qualifying.
Gareth Southgate lined up his team in a 3-4-3 formation with Mount, earning his ninth cap, most often found on the right side of the front three. He regularly switched flanks with Marcus Rashford.
England started slowly and the Red Devils had already had a goal disallowed when Romelu Lukaku put them ahead from the spot with a quarter-of-an-hour played.
But England responded with a penalty of their own to ensure they went in level at the break. This time Jordan Henderson was tugged back attacking a corner, and with no Harry Kane on the pitch, it was left to Rashford to finish emphatically from 12 yards.
Roberto Martinez’s side had certainly had the better of the opening 45 minutes, but England improved when play restarted, showing greater urgency in possession.
On a couple of occasions, they were able to make better use of the areas Mount was finding on the right-hand side, with one such attack ending in a Trent Alexander-Arnold effort being deflected just wide.
Mount soon switched to the left and on 64 minutes found a pocket of space from which he gave England the lead. Collecting a Kieran Tripper nod-down just inside the box, he cut inside and curled goalwards. The shot took a deflection off Toby Alderweireld, and looped over Simon Mignolet and into the top right-hand corner.
Yannick Carrasco had a good chance to equalise but otherwise Belgium were largely blunted. Reece James was introduced in the 79th minute for his first competitive appearance for his country, and in fact it was Gareth Southgate’s side who had the best opportunities to net the game’s fourth goal late on, but sub Kane and then Rashford couldn’t hit the target.
So it meant Mount was the matchwinner, and added to his senior tally having netted in Kosovo last year. England host Denmark on Wednesday, while Belgium, who left Michy Batshuayi on the bench, face Iceland.
In Zagreb, Mateo Kovacic played an hour on the right side of a midfield diamond as Croatia beat Sweden 2-1. Booked after a minute for a handball, Kovacic saw his nation take the lead through Nikola Vlasic on 31 minutes.
Sweden equalised through their captain Marcus Berg shortly after Kovacic had been replaced by former Chelsea midfielder Mario Palasic. Croatia had the final word, netting with six minutes left through Andrej Kramaric of Hoffenheim. It earned Croatia their first points of this Nations League campaign.
In Sunday’s early kick-offs, two of our players out on loan, Ethan Ampadu and Armando Broja, played the full 90 minutes for Wales and Albania respectively as they were held to goalless draws away from home.
Having been deployed in central midfield against England on Thursday, Ampadu was back in the heart of the Welsh defence for a Nations League qualifier against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin.
The 20-year-old, who is at Sheffield United this season, looked typically assured in both boxes during a game of few clear chances. He was involved in the major talking point of the second half when fouled by James McClean late on, that challenge earning the Stoke winger a second yellow card.
It finished 0-0 so Wales remain top of Group B4 with seven points from three games. They play Bulgaria away on Wednesday.
It was also 0-0 in Almaty, where Albania were playing Kazakhstan. Broja, on loan at Vitesse Arnhem, made his first start for the Eagles having debuted last month. He had a couple of chances to open his account for his country, too, with the visitors dominating possession and territory, but there was to be no breakthrough.
All four teams in their group have four points ahead of Albania's midweek trip to Lithuania.