Southgate’s men earned A 0-0 draw against Brazil at Wembley
The funny thing is that until last week it had been seven years since England’s last goalless draw at Wembley, going all the way back to a Euro 2012 qualifier against Montenegro when Fabio Capello was in charge. They have now had two in the space of four days but as Gareth Southgate pointed out, that is not necessarily such a bad thing when the opposition have been the highest-placed teams in Fifa’s world rankings.
Southgate can certainly be encouraged by clean sheets against first Germany and now a Brazil side that likes to think of itself as football royalty. England’s inexperienced line-ups have managed two creditable results against sides that will go to the World Cup with realistic aspirations of going all the way. Joe Gomez was named as the man of the match for this one and Dominic Solanke, a substitute, will certainly remember the night he won his first cap. He came on with Tammy Abraham after 75 minutes, meaning Southgate has given half a dozen players their England debuts over the last two fixtures.
Dream come true making my England Senior Debut today at Wembley vs Brazil!🇧🇷 very proud moment for me and my family❤️. pic.twitter.com/C1TxYVXGHT
— Dom Solanke (@DomSolanke) November 15, 2017
Unfortunately for Solanke, his touch was heavy when he had the chance to make himself a hero in the final exchanges. “Congratulations,” the on-pitch reporter gushed to Eric Dier during an interview directly after the match – presumably, for not losing. Yet England might actually have won the game with that late chance and without going overboard, Southgate was entitled to think it had been a useful exercise, particularly bearing in mind the nature of the Seleção line-up.
This was the strongest team available to Tite, the Brazil coach, and the imbalance of talent was often a reminder why England will not be in the first pot of seeds when the World Cup draw is made on 1 December. Neymar, in particular, could be mesmerising and England were reminded why it will be so imperative to keep the ball against the best teams in Russia next summer. It is simple really: give away the ball at this level and it can be a long time before it comes back. “We couldn’t get hold of the ball and keep it,” Southgate said. “We looked anxious with the ball.”
That in itself made this a rarity: an England game at Wembley where the opposition had more of the ball, with the more refined touches and the swagger of a side who know they are something special. Brazil lacked a penetrative edge but, even with Philippe Coutinho having a below-par night, it was still a joy at times to see the way they moved the ball.
The pass Neymar nonchalantly curled into Gabriel Jesus midway through the first half, playing the ball with the outside of his boot, was just one example. Neymar does not often use his left foot but on this evidence, maybe he should try it more often. His next attempt to release Jesus was another beauty. Neymar’s shooting could be wild and the half-time announcer even had the temerity to poke fun at one of the misses, with the shot replayed on the large screens. Just a bit of fun, perhaps, but Neymar was operating at a much higher level than his opponents, as demonstrated by his exquisitely delivered nutmeg on Jake Livermore and the umpteen step-overs with which he tormented the same player later on. It is not often Wembley hosts one of the world’s category-A footballers and the fans here should have soaked it up. Neymar is a treat, and should be cherished for what he does.
England never moved the ball as quickly as their opponents, or with the same kind of fluidity, and Southgate made the point that their carelessness owed in part to fretting about Brazil’s ability. Ruben Loftus-Cheek had a fine game against Germany but his second cap ended in the 35th minute because of a minor back injury. Jesse Lingard took his place, operating just behind Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy, but it was a pity that England did not have Harry Kane or Dele Alli to see how the team would have done with their best attack in place.
Rashford showed in flashes why he will always back himself to trouble even the most accomplished teams, including one little pirouette and improvisational drag-back to take him away from Marcelo, Miranda and Casemiro all at once. Vardy, however, had a difficult night and if England are going to proceed with a wing-back system that formation works best when the relevant players feel able to advance. Kyle Walker and Ryan Bertrand were more occupied here with helping the team to maintain a five-man defensive line.
“I can’t remember one or two opportunities from them that scared us,” Tite said afterwards. “I don’t believe England will play at the World Cup like this.”
— England (@England) November 14, 2017
It says something about the expectations surrounding Tite’s team that he faced a grilling from the Brazilian journalists. The closest Brazil came to finding a winner came after Dier lost the ball in midfield and the substitute Fernandinho strode forward before skimming a low shot off the outside of a post. Otherwise, there was not a huge amount to keep Joe Hart busy on the night England’s