It’s amazing the difference a couple of yards can make. Given just that amount of space for the first half of this game, Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku appeared to be the kind of centre forward he very rarely was during his Premier League days.
Lukaku – now of Inter Milan – was a bully at Wembley with a velvet touch. Everything he did worked, at least for a while. He won and converted a penalty. He set up team-mates with back heels, received the ball with his back to goal and either played colleagues in or turned and set off for goal.
It was an imperious half of football by Lukaku, formerly of Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea, and had it continued then it is likely Belgium would have won this game.
England needed some good fortune to beat Belgium but their performance improved hugely
Gareth Southgate's men now top their Nations League group after completing the comeback
But it didn’t continue because it wasn’t allowed to. At half-time, no doubt encouraged by their manager, England’s three central defenders awoke to their generosity and failings.
They changed their approach, started to get that yard or two closer to Lukaku and didn’t allow him the time to do everything he wanted. They made him hurry, made him think. It was a crucial change in a contest that England looked well out of at one stage but recovered to such an extent that they eased through the second half.
It’s true that England needed some fortune with their goals to get out of this alive. A half-baked penalty and a deflection. But against the team ranked number one in the world this was a performance that improved hugely as it went on and the manner in which game was turned slowly on its head will not have been lost on Gareth Southgate as he looks to identify the players who can respond when big questions are asked.
Romelu Lukaku was in imperious form for the visitors but later found himself well marshalled
The Inter Milan frontman put on the kind of display rarely seen during his Premier League days
For sure England’s central defenders were rotten for the first half an hour or more. Maybe Southgate should not have been surprised.
One of them, Kyle Walker, said after the last World Cup that he didn’t really like playing in that position. Another, Eric Dier, only recently won his battle at Tottenham to be recognised as a centre half rather than a midfield player, and the final one, Harry Maguire, has endured