Gareth Southgate’s side had plenty of possession against the world’s top-ranked side but were toothless in attack and ultimately undone by two early goals.
Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans opened the scoring after 10 minutes when his 20-yard shot took a deflection off Tyrone Mings, and Dries Mertens doubled their advantage 13 minutes later with a superb free-kick after Declan Rice was harshly adjudged to have fouled Kevin de Bruyne.
Belgium’s second came after Romelu Lukaku had headed off the line brilliantly from Harry Kane, and while England spent much of the second half in their opponents’ half, they were unable to fashion the opportunities to work their way back into contention.
Defeat means England will not reach the finals after finishing third in 2019, when the inaugural showpiece was held in Portugal.
In the other match in group A2, Christian Eriksen scored twice to give Denmark a 2-1 victory over Iceland.
Meanwhile, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson was replaced at half-time as a precaution, while Chelsea left-back Ben Chilwell limped off on 38 minutes with an apparent back injury.England were without the injured Raheem Sterling, giving Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish the opportunity to build on the fine early impression he has made at international level.
He emerged as England’s outstanding performer and driving force, drawing a succession of fouls from Belgium.
Irrespective of the result, Grealish can feel highly satisfied with his own individual display, which followed his impressive performances in the friendlies against Wales and the Republic of Ireland.
It also gives Southgate a pleasant problem. It has often seemed as if Grealish has had to convince Southgate of his pedigree at this level, and while the manager may still prefer a front three of Kane, Sterling and Marcus Rashford if all are fit and in form, he now has other options.