Belgium confirmed their best finish ever at a World Cup with a comprehensive 2-0 win over England in the third place game at Russia 2018. Belgium’s best previous finish was a fourth place in 1986, when they lost to eventual winners Argentina in the semifinal and then lost to France in the third place game. This year’s semifinal loss to, once again, the French was Belgium’s only loss in Russia and only the second of 17 games they failed to win since the start of the qualification process. The Golden Generation may have failed to deliver the big trophy, but their match record speaks for itself.
In the rematch of their group game, Belgium once again took things more seriously than England, both in terms of the starting lineup and in terms of effort on the pitch. Hazard, De Bruyne, Lukaku, Courtois all started and while England trotted out Kane and Sterling, Southgate made multiple changes in midfield. In a way, that was great since it gave Ruben Loftus-Cheek the start as well (and 80+ minutes of playing time), but it also spoke to the difference in mentality between how the two sides approached the game. Sure, it was a meaningless friendly in the end, but winning is a habit.
In fairness to England, they finished the game better than they started it, and the fourth place represents their best finish since 1990, when they also lost the third place match (to hosts Italy, back then) after a non-regulation loss in the semifinals. The promise of the squad remains intact, though the sense of a missed opportunity will linger.
One more game left in the World Cup, tomorrow, as France (with Kanté and Giroud) face Croatia in the final. For those involved today, it’s time for holidays. For Eden Hazard, that means cheese burgers and transfer rumors.