LONDON (Reuters) - England manager Gareth Southgate praised his players for holding steady and seeing their way through a gritty, though not always pretty, 2-1 win over top-ranked Belgium in the Nations League at Wembley on Sunday.
“It was a brilliant test, it was just the test we needed,” he told reporters.
Southgate made nine changes to the side that beat Wales 3-0 in a friendly at Wembley on Thursday, and raised questions particularly by leaving out that game’s man of the match, creative midfielder Jack Grealish.
But the move paid off, with a five-man defence, including three right backs - Kieran Trippier playing on the left, Kyle Walker as a central defender and Trent Alexander-Arnold in his usual spot - largely keeping Belgium at bay.
“They caused us a lot of problems down the sides of our defensive block with overloading the wide areas, and we knew that would happen. But resolving those issues in real time, live, was difficult for the players, so it was a huge test to come through that,” Southgate said.
Walker was also pleased with how the defence had held up, and said Southgate’s words at halftime helped lift the England players against the top team in the FIFA world rankings.
“We defended well and stuck in, and I think that’s what you’ve got to do against top teams. They caused us problems in the first half, but Gareth gave a great team talk at halftime and we’ve gone out and gave a good performance to get us a victory,” he told the BBC.
Southgate acknowledged that sometimes teams have to grind out victories.
“Defensively you’ve got to be spot on, you can’t be loose in any way, shape or form, and the players took that on board,” he said.
“They showed tremendous composure, the whole team. Every time a player got beaten, there was a man there to tidy up.”
Reporting by Hugh Lawson, editing Ed Osmond
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