England and Belgium were both already assured of places in the World Cup knockout stage following wins over Panama and Tunisia, but their paths to the final were set after Belgium's 1-0 win in an unusual group finale.
Entering the match, it was clear that the winner of the group would arguably have a much more difficult knockout path, with Brazil, France, Argentina, Portugal, Uruguay, Mexico and Japan waiting on that half of the bracket. The loser, conversely, goes to a side that features Spain, Croatia, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Colombia and host Russia. With losing not necessarily a negative and the match an opportunity to rest some players and protect others carrying yellow cards, both sides could take unique approaches to what is typically a more high-stakes environment.
And as expected, both rang in a series of lineup changes, with England sitting Golden Boot leader Harry Kane, and Belgium benching its attacking stars Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens.
One of the bright attacking stars getting a chance for Belgium, Youri Tielemans, forced a great save from Jordan Pickford in the seventh minute, stinging the goalkeeper's palms with a blast from long range that was parried to safety.
Belgium pushed even more, with a scramble in front of goal nearly resulting in a score, only for Gary Cahill to sweep the ball off the line and keep things scoreless.
With the fair play tiebreaker potentially coming into play for a second straight match–after never happening before in World Cup history–Tielemans picked up a yellow card, giving Belgium four yellows for the tournament and England two. In the event of a draw, the group finish would come down to that, with England taking the top spot.
Belgium continued to look like the more likely of the two sides to score, and it nearly did in the 27th minute, when Marouane Fellaini steered a shot on goal, only for Trent Alexander-Arnold to block it off the line and clear it to safety.
Five minutes later, Leander Dendoncker picked up a yellow card of his own, extending England's edge in the fair play table by three, should it come to that.
As the second half began, it became clear that the fair play table may not get used for a second time in as many time slots. Adnan Januzaj, who was formerly eligible to play for England before choosing Belgium while a rising star at Manchester United, connected for a thunderbolt of a left-footed finish from inside the box, making it 1-0 Belgium and firing the Red Devils to the top of the group table.
England appeared to have a chance to equalize in the 83rd minute through Danny Welbeck, who fired from 15 yards off a corner kick, only for Fellaini to redirect the shot to safety.
On the other end, Mertens came off the bench, and nearly doubled Belgium's lead in spectacular fashion, as he lashed a right-footed volley off the bounce on target, only for Pickford to dive to his right and make the save.
For a recap from the other simultaneous Group G finale between Panama and Tunisia, read on here.
Here were the lineups for both teams:
Here are the rosters for both sides:
Goalkeepers: Jack Butland (Stoke), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Burnley)
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham), Danny Rose (Tottenham), Ashley Young (Manchester United), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), John Stones (Manchester City), Harry Maguire (Leicester), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Phil Jones (Manchester United)
Midfielders: Eric Dier (Tottenham), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), Dele Alli (Tottenham), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)
Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham), Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal)
Manager: Gareth Southgate
Goalkeepers: Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool)
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona)
Midfielders: Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yifang), Nacer Chadli (West Brom), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Monchengladbach), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Thomas Meunier (Paris Saint-Germain), Youri Tielemans (Monaco), Axel Witsel (Tianjin Quanjian)
Forwards: Michy Batshuayi (Borussia Dortmund), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), Dries Mertens (Napoli)
Manager: Roberto Martinez