Belgium end England's Nations League challenge
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Leuven (Belgium) (AFP) –
Belgium ended England's hopes of reaching the Nations League finals as goals from Youri Tielemans and Dries Mertens earned the world's number one ranked side a 2-0 win in Leuven on Sunday.
A second consecutive defeat in Group A2 leaves England down in third, five points adrift of Belgium, with just one game remaining.
Denmark's late winner over Iceland means Belgium still need a point when they host the Danes on Wednesday to secure their place in the Nations League semi-finals in October 2021.
England dominated for long spells after conceding twice in the opening 24 minutes, but failed to make it count with questions sure to be asked of Gareth Southgate's insistence on a 5-3-2 formation.
Pressure will build on the England boss to switch to a system that accommodates more of his abundance of attacking options ahead of Euro 2020, where his side will largely enjoy home advantage.
For the first time since Belgium's victory in the third-place playoff between the sides at the 2018 World Cup was followed by a Nations League defeat to Spain over two years ago, the Three Lions have suffered back-to-back competitive defeats.
Despite the absence of Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling through injury, Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho was left on the bench in favour of Jack Grealish and Mason Mount.
Grealish shone on his first competitive start, but England lacked the pace in the front three to trouble the hosts.
Belgium had gone in front early when the sides met at Wembley last month only to be pegged back and lose, but England could not repeat that trick after Leicester midfielder Tielemans's deflected effort went in off the post after 10 minutes.
Romelu Lukaku had scored 15 times in his last 12 internationals, but it was at the other end that the Inter Milan striker made his most significant contribution with a fine header off the line to deny Harry Kane an equaliser on his 50th cap.
Midway through the half, the visitors had a mountain to climb. Declan Rice was harshly punished for a challenge on Kevin De Bruyne just outside the area and Mertens curled the resulting free-kick perfectly over the wall to give Jordan Pickford no chance.
Belgium were then happy to sit on their lead and could have been punished with better finishing from Southgate's men.
Mount turned Grealish's dangerous cross well over before Kane was denied from a narrow angle by Thibaut Courtois.
Chances continued to come and go for England after the break as Kane fired too close to Courtois, while Mount and Kieran Trippier wasted similar free-kick opportunities to the one Mertens dispatched.
At the other end, Pickford justified his selection despite his erratic form for Everton, with a fine save from Lukaku to keep the scoreline from having an unfair reflection on England.
© 2020 AFP