Here's the fundamental difference between Belgium and England, apart from the obvious 2-0 victory to the former, in the third-place playoff match in the Fifa World Cup early today.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez pulled out striker Romelu Lukaku about 15 minutes after halftime but England counterpart Gareth Southgate left in captain Harry Kane, opting instead to yank Raheem Sterling who was the provider of the best chance for the striker.

For the bronze medal winners taking their country to their best finish in the tourney, it seems there was no room for individual pursuits at the expense of the collective even though Lukaku had a long shot at eclipsing Kane in the golden boot race. (Kane has six goals, including three penalties).

If Manchester United's towering forager, sulkily trudging down the tunnel when he was substituted, had a fault it was his inability to stay strong on the ball rather than let defenders John Stones, Harry McGuire and Phil Jones ruffle his feathers.

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Conversely, Kane simply needed to remain upright especially when trying to slot the ball into the net but his 24 or so touches were simply unacceptable for a game of that magnitude. Not even the skipper should be exempt from scrutiny.

Thomas Meunier made the Belgian's intention clear in just the fourth minute when Nacer Chadli found Lukaku before running down the flank to regather to cross to the fellow midfielder surging in from the far side for the sliding-foot goal.

Captain Eden Hazard sealed England's fate in the 82nd minute but the victors should have scored several others, especially in the first half when Lukaku lost his composure to butcher a couple of one-on-one opportunities with clumsy touches against England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Conspicuously Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne created havoc in showing how porous the English defence can be while Axel Witsel and Youri Tielemans, with substitute Mousa Dembélé, took control of the engine room to make one wonder whether their counterparts had finished tying their boot laces.

England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford thwarts another sitter from Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku in the third-place playoff at the Fifa World Cup in Russia today. Photo / AP
England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford thwarts another sitter from Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku in the third-place playoff at the Fifa World Cup in Russia today. Photo / AP

In Southgate's defence, he had to rejig his midfield due to unfit starting XI players (or was it because Croatia had exposed their frailties?) but that forced revamp raised a key question.

Why didn't he start Ruben Loftus-Cheek in other matches and who else didn't get to show their prowess in the squad?

Chelsea centre midfielder Loftus-Cheek brought vibrancy and impetus glaringly absent in that department with an adroitness and composure that extended to skirting the sidelines for some penetrating crosses that left recipients bereft of ideas if they didn't go begging.

Perhaps the best appraisal of the Three Lions comes from Martinez in his post-match interview on TV, once you fudge the diplomatic references.

"England is the best team in the dead-ball situation and the best team on the long ball so you have to concentrate and [my] players showed incredible concentration," the Spaniard said, believing Belgium should have scored four or five more goals.

The scary thing is the Belgians did the job barely breaking into a sweat, deftly nullifying a lion's share of set-piece attacks. Even centreback Vincent Kompany had the audacity to leave his post to have a go at scoring late in the game.

It seems unfair to rob the Belgians of some gloss in their success but England made them look good, considering France didn't give them that sort of time and space to conjure magic.

Belgium had 10 different goal scorers throughout their campaign in the draw of death to dispel any suggestions they are one-trick ponies. England — Kane six against Tunisia and Panama and the odd one to someone or other in the playoffs.

"Talent only takes you somewhere. I think what we've seen in this World Cup is that these players didn't want to rely on their talent any more. They wanted to rely on a team of players who would do anything to achieve results," Martinez rightly declared.

England captain Harry Kane (stooping) consoles defender John Stones after the loss to Belgium at St Petersburg Stadium in Russia. Photo / AP
England captain Harry Kane (stooping) consoles defender John Stones after the loss to Belgium at St Petersburg Stadium in Russia. Photo / AP

In some respects, it boils down to the cat-and-mouse affair in Kaliningrad in the final group in pool G on June 29 when Belgium could have thrown the game en route to booking a final berth against Les Bleus in Moscow tomorrow morning.

But the prudent will tell you there's more honour in taking the tougher route to defeat than face the ignominy of taking a Koru Club ticket to a false destination while chomping on an inflight fake meat hamburger. England's route seldom pushed them out of their comfort zone.

The Belgians thoroughly deserve to finish No 3 - although they may have harboured higher aspirations - but are England No 4?

The jury's out on that one because can England beat Brazil, Portugal, Mexico, Uruguay or, for that matter, Japan and Russia?

Don't hold your breath because the Fifa world rankings will most likely tell another story to be debated another time.

The medals will be going home all right but around the necks of foreign stars plying their trade in the English Premier League.