England’s win was flattering – Gareth Southgate will have no idea how he did it

Gareth Southgate must have thought he was hallucinating after seeing England somehow pass their acid test at Wembley.

Had his Three Lions really just come from behind to beat the No.1 team in the world in a crucial Nations League qualifier and surge to the top of group A2?

The answer was 'yes', but even someone as studious as Southgate will be struggling to fathom out how when he wakes up this morning realising he hadn't been seeing things.

Belgium showed just why they are top of the rankings with a sublime first half of attacking power and poise that left the Three Lions looking more like cubs.

It was embarrassing at times, but somehow England dug in to limit the damage before capitalising on the fact Roberto Martinez's men couldn't make their dominance count when they had the chance.

Romelu Lukaku had fired the visitors ahead from the penalty spot, only to see Marcus Rashford equalise with one of his own before Mason Mount's deflected effort won it on 64 minutes.

Fortunate? Perhaps. Flattering? Definitely, but the confidence Southgate and his stars will take from this result should be immense as the Three Lions look to bridge that gap between themselves and the world's elite.

Southgate made nine changes from the team that walloped Wales 3-0, with just Kieran Trippier and Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin surviving the cull. Calvert-Lewin replaced Harry Kane, who was left on the bench due to a muscle strain.

It was a controversial team selection considering Southgate recalled Jordan Pickford in goal, chose to ignore the clamour to keep in-form Jack Grealish in his team and named three right-footed defenders in his back three, including Kyle Walker who won his 50th cap.

Southgate also opted for Trippier in the left wingback role again, ignoring the more natural alternatives of Bukayo Saka and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. In fact, the only left-footed player on the pitch was in goal.

Southgate's line-up did smack of caution, but he would argue he knows what he's doing and point to the fact England had kept a clean sheet in each of their last six games.

Another one here would be the longest run of games without conceding a goal in the team's history.

But this was Belgium, not Belarus, the best team on the planet and one containing supreme threats like De Bruyne, Lukaku, Thomas Meunier and Yannick Carrasco. At least Eden Hazard was unavailable due to a thigh problem.

Yet home hopes of another shutout were ruined within 15 minutes when a lightning counter attack from Belgium saw Eric Dier trip Lukaku to concede a penalty.

Lukaku, who bullied the England defence from start to finish, picked himself up to beat Pickford with ease and give the visitors a deserved lead with his 53rd international goal.


De Bruyne and Meunier then went close as Martinez's men started to school their hosts and exploit a left hand side full of right-footed players. Who'd have thought it?

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The gap in the world rankings might have been only three places, but it might as well have been 30.


But then England were offered a lifeline out of the blue seven minutes before half time when Meunier dragged down Jordan Henderson to concede a spot kick at the opposite end, which Rashford duly dispatched.

The Three Lions grew in confidence to enjoy some parity and Mount sealed the unlikely win when his shot deflected off Toby Alderweireld before looping over Simon Mignolet to provide a strange ending to a strange game.

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