Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard scored to earn Belgium the bronze medal at the FIFA World Cup -- their best performance at the tournament. The Belgians were their slick and clinical best, showing why they were one of the pre-tournament dark-horses, beating England 2-0 in the their-place play-off in St. Petersburg on July 14.
Meunier scored in the fourth minute while skipper Hazard sealed the victory in the 82nd as Roberto Martinez's "golden generation" went one better than their best-ever showing, a fourth place in the 1986 World Cup.
England, who had a good run in the tournament till the semis, squandered a few chances, their players showing signs that they were yet to get over from the loss against Croatia in the final four. The English had lost to Belgium in the group stages as well, and perhaps that defeat, though during an inconsequential tie where both teams fielded reserve sides, was also weighing them down.
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Belgium players, on the other hand, seemed determined to not return from Russia without a medal, having lost to France football team in semis after a tight contest. They had spring in their strides, and intent in their moves.
Hazard and Co. were off to a perfect start when, during the opening exchanges, Romelu Lukaku's pass cut open England's defence and found Nacer Chadli. The English were slow off the block and failed to cover the move. Chadli crossed to Meunier, who sneaked behind England full-back Danny Rose to score past goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
The goal itself was a record -- the quickest ever scored by Belgium in a World Cup match, while Meunier became the 10th player to score for Belgium in Russia.
After the goal, Belgium turned on the heat as England increasingly looked out of sorts, and a stride or two behind.
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Midfielders Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Eric Dier had a busy time keeping the Belgians from taking control and scoring again. The best chance for Gareth Southgate’s side came when Raheem Sterling set up Harry Kane right inside the box, but the striker, top-scorer of the tournament, kicked the ball wide.
In the second half, England got their best chance when Dier was clear on goal but his chip over goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was cleared off the line by Toby Alderweireld.
Hazard then sealed the deal for Belgium in the 82nd minute with his third goal of the World Cup. He collected a pass from Kevin De Bruyne that deflected off Phil Jones' right heel, and calmly finished past Pickford to the bottom left corner.