Jude Bellingham’s new England role provides late twist to Gareth Southgate’s Euros plans

England 2-2 Belgium: The Real Madrid midfielder’s late equaliser and third goal for his country rescued England from a second straight defeat at Wembley

Richard Jolly
at Wembley
Wednesday 27 March 2024 07:10 GMT
Related video: Bellingham and Richards burst out in laughter during exchange after Real Madrid game

On a night when Jude Bellingham may have lost his status as the youngest prodigy in the England midfield, he still had the final say. An evening of erratic finishing from Real Madrid’s top scorer concluded with the surest of shots, tucked into the bottom corner for a 95th-minute equaliser against Belgium: Bellingham has often had a flair for the dramatic and, in sparing England a second defeat in four days, he delivered just his third international goal. If the glimpse of the future had come first from Kobbie Mainoo, with a dextrous touch and a lovely ability to evade opponents, on his maiden international start, England then saw what the Bernabeu has witnessed for much of this season: Bellingham the goalscorer.

That he was assisted by James Maddison, with an impudent scoop to find the runner from midfield, offered another option to Southgate: Bellingham wears 10 for his country now, but he can drop into a deeper role to accommodate Maddison. They combined just as England seemed to have spent March dampening expectations, heading towards Euro 2024 without the form of favourites.

Jude Bellingham arrived as England’s goalscorer to salvage a draw
Jude Bellingham arrived as England’s goalscorer to salvage a draw (EPA)

They may go to Germany, however, with some of Gareth Southgate’s plans subject to a rethink. Mainoo, named in the Under-21 squad less than two weeks ago, may have played his way into the senior group for the summer. Lewis Dunk, assured in autumn, sadly hapless in spring, made a second mistake in as many games and looks likelier to have a summer at home. Maddison indicated he could be an impact sub. Ivan Toney gave himself a better case of understudying Harry Kane in Euro 2024. On a mixed night for the Aston Villa representatives, Ezri Konsa may have moved up the defensive pecking order amid Dunk’s struggles, but Ollie Watkins could have been leapfrogged by Toney in attack.

If nothing else, England’s vast injury list gave Southgate more evidence of the credentials of the players competing for the final spots in his squad. They were not all convincing, but while England produced a better performance than against Brazil, they were undermined by errors that left them chasing the game: by Jordan Pickford and Dunk for Youri Tielemans’s two goals.

Their issues could be attributed in part to a makeshift side, shorn of any of the first-choice back four when John Stones departed inside 10 minutes – after Kyle Walker went off against Brazil, it may have been a very costly international break for Manchester City – to take the cast list of the missing to 16.

Belgium beat England twice during the 2018 World Cup. If the golden generation are more the olden generation now, there were a couple of remnants of their past on show, Jan Vertonghen’s foul enabling Toney to become the first Brentford player ever to score for England, Romelu Lukaku’s delectable cross allowing Tielemans, who has an FA Cup final winner to his name, to muster a Wembley brace, though Bellingham ensured neither was a decider.

His opener was a curiosity as Tielemans placed a shot in one side of the goal as Pickford ran to the other corner; having given the ball away himself, with a poor clearance, it added embarrassment to error for the goalkeeper.

The second was a rarity, a Tielemans header as he stooped to convert a nonchalant, outside-of-the-boot cross from Lukaku. Yet it completed an awful week for Dunk: at fault for Brazil’s winner, he was culpable again, sliding to clear the ball, but only applying a slight touch to leave him grounded and Lukaku in possession. Having gifted Lukaku a goal in Brighton’s 4-0 thrashing by Roma, Dunk suggested he is outclassed when isolated against Belgium’s record scorer.

Tielemans scored twice but England gifted goals to Belgium
Tielemans scored twice but England gifted goals to Belgium (Reuters)

His has been a rise from the lower leagues. So has Toney’s and, for one, it was a happy occasion. The forward had 164 career goals to his name, but none on such a stage. A year to the day since his England debut, almost a decade since his first strikes in the Football League, for Northampton against Dagenham & Redbridge, a couple of months after returning from a betting ban, he struck for his country.

It capped an impressive display. Toney has the sense of purpose that accompanies many of the classic No 9s. His penalty taking forms part of Toney’s case. He won the spot kick, too, racing on to Bellingham’s pass and being brought down by Vertonghen. A nerveless conversion took his career record to 30 out of 32; that 93 per cent success rate is rather better than England’s average in shootouts.

Toney scored and made a case to be Harry Kane’s back-up
Toney scored and made a case to be Harry Kane’s back-up (Action Images via Reuters)

Jarrod Bowen celebrated a first England goal, too, only for his predatory header to be ruled offside when VAR was invoked. But Bowen was lively, buzzing around with an endearing brightness, twice setting up chances for others, shooting at Matz Sels when found by Gomez.

Bellingham’s radar had seemed awry. He fired over from 10 yards after Mainoo dispossessed Amadou Onana on the edge of the Belgium box; he misdirected a header from Gomez’s chipped cross. The Liverpool man felt England’s seventh-choice right-back when he came on, and Konsa moved into the middle, but he had a fine second half. And Bellingham, who has injury-time winners in El Clasico and the Champions League already this season, showed he can be the specialist at supplying a late twist to the tale for his country as well as his club.

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