Belgium 2-0 England: Quality Beats Quantity

England Belgium World CupFor the second time in this World Cup, Belgium beat England in a match which didn’t matter a huge amount to anybody. Unlike in the first meeting, the Three Lions had more shots and more on target than their opponents in St. Petersburg on Saturday, but it was Roberto Martinez’ side who amassed more expected goals both times.

And when it comes to chances, quality is always more valuable than quantity. Still, England did at least muster five shots on target in open play, which was significantly better than they managed to in their first six matches in Russia.

With Belgium scoring so early – Thomas Meunier gave them the lead in the 4th minute – it was always likely England would go on to dominate the shot stats as they chased the game. Equally inevitable was the fact Belgium would rely on counterattacks, and indeed they had three shots which were classified as such by Opta.

That may not sound many, but Mexico (with nine) and Korea Republic (five) are the only other nations to have more than three across the whole tournament, never mind in a single match.

So even though the game state affected things, credit should still go to Kieran Trippier for being the game’s top attacking player.

In total he created seven chances against the Belgians and, unless someone runs riot in the World Cup final, he has set up the most goal scoring opportunities of any player in the 2018 tournament. He and his England teammates certainly made the Red Devils work for their victory; the Belgian back three were all in the top four defensive performers according to the Twelve algorithm.

While Toby Alderweireld made the most important intervention, by blocking Eric Dier’s goal-bound shot, it was his club colleague Jan Vertonghen who made the most defensive actions overall.

Gareth Southgate would no doubt have preferred his side’s one clear-cut chance of the match to fall to Tottenham’s centre-forward rather than their defensive midfielder, but it was not to be. It has been a strange tournament for Harry Kane. He looks likely to win the Golden Boot, yet his goals are comprised of three penalties, two from set-pieces and a deflection, and he finished rock bottom for shot points in this match.

In many ways, it has been a strange month for England too. They got further than most people thought they would, and showed some excellent work on set pieces, but offered very little in open play, and their lack of goals when Kane fails to score hasn’t gone away either. Belgium won the day here, and look far better set to challenge for international honours in future too.

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