Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard combined to secure Belgium’s best performance at a World Cup as they edged England 2-0 in the third-place play-off in St Petersburg.
Having fallen one match shy of a maiden final appearance in Tuesday’s slim 1-0 defeat to France, the Red Devils’ vaunted golden generation lifted themselves off the canvass to improve upon the fourth-place finish managed by Enzo Scifo, Jan Ceulemans and company in 1986.
Meunier was the unlikely hero early on as his close-range finish in the opening exchanges denied England what would have been their best tournament result since lifting the trophy 52 years ago.
Belgium’s electrifying start mirrored that which Gareth Southgate’s men had made in their semi-final loss to Croatia, when a Kieran Trippier free-kick in the fifth minute looked likely to book them a second berth on the big stage.
But they eventually fell in extra time then and again conceded late in a less pressurised environment this time around, Hazard wrapping up victory – and Belgium’s second tournament win over England – with his third of the campaign in the 82nd minute.