Sluggish England held to draw by USA | Southgate: I knew it would be difficult

England edged closer to a place in the World Cup knockout rounds with a 0-0 draw with USA but their lacklustre display was a reality check on their ambitions at the tournament and means they will have to wait until their final group game with Wales on Tuesday to seal a last-16 spot.

Only a defeat to Wales by four goals or more would prevent Group B leaders England from making the next stage but Southgate will have to field questions about the big drop-off in his team’s performance and how they can rediscover form for the business phase of this competition.

After England thumped Iran 6-2 in their opening fixture in Qatar there was optimism among their supporters about their team building on their run to the final of the Euros last summer. But by the final whistle there were boos from those travelling fans, with Gareth Southgate’s side badly off the pace and disjointed against an energetic US team.

Christian Pulisic crashed a first-half shot against the bar and Harry Maguire had to head away a series of corners as the Americans put the pressure on in the second half. While there was no way through to emulate the famous upset in this fixture of 1950, USA did enough to recalibrate perceptions about England’s prospects and boost their own hopes of progressing.

John Stones battles for possession with Christian Pulisic
Image: John Stones battles for possession with Christian Pulisic

Harry Kane’s blocked shot at the start of the match and his header wide from Luke Shaw’s free-kick in second-half stoppage time was as close as the toothless Three Lions attack came to troubling USA during an alarming – if not immediately damaging – performance.

USA, meanwhile, sit third in Group B, a point behind Iran, who they face on Tuesday. A win would see them into the last 16.

Big moments in the game…

  • 10 min: Kane’s goal-bound shot from eight yards is blocked by Zimmerman from Saka’s cut-back
  • 26 min: McKennie shoots over from Musah’s cross
  • 33 min: Pulisic hits the bar with left-foot shot from just inside box
  • 41 min: Dest’s shot is blocked by Maguire across goal and out for a corner
  • 45 min: Saka shoots over from Shaw’s cutback
  • 49 min: Stones blocks from Wright before McKennie shoots over
  • 90+3 min: Kane heads Shaw’s free-kick wide

England, fresh from cutting loose against Iran, showed purpose in the opening stages, with Kane’s goal-bound effort blocked after Bukayo Saka’s cutback and Mason Mount’s shot over after a dribble in the box by Maguire.

Sam Blitz’s England player ratings

England: Pickford (6), Trippier (5), Stones (7), Maguire (8), Shaw (5); Rice (6), Mount (5), Bellingham (7); Saka (6), Kane (6), Sterling (5)

Subs: Grealish (6), Henderson (6), Rashford (6)

Player of the match: Harry Maguire

But soon their possession lacked purpose and, without the ball, Southgate’s side looked uncertain and uncoordinated as Haji Wright headed wide, Weston McKennie fired a good opening over and former England youth international Yunus Musah saw a shot deflected into Jordan Pickford’s grasp.

The growing concern about England’s performance from the travelling support in the stands at Al Bayt Stadium was compounded when Pulisic smashed a fierce left-foot shot against the frame of Pickford’s goal from just inside the box.

Jordan Pickford watches a USA effort sail wide
Image: Jordan Pickford watches a USA effort sail wide

Maguire – excellent on his 50th cap – then did well to block a dangerous effort from Sergino Dest and Pulisic headed wide, with England hanging on for half-time. A late shot over from Saka and the Three Lions’ first effort on target of the match in stoppage time from Mount did little to mask England’s struggles in the opening 45 minutes.

Team news

  • England named an unchanged XI from the side which beat Iran, with Harry Kane overcoming an injury scare and Harry Maguire recovering from illness to win his 50th cap
  • USA made one change from their draw with Wales, with Haji Wright replacing Josh Sargent in attack.

There was no improvement after the break, either, with John Stones having to block from Wright, McKennie again shooting over, Pulisic’s dig deflected wide and USA ramping up the pressure around the hour mark with a run of corners.

In the 68th minute Southgate finally made his move, sending on Jordan Henderson and Jack Grealish for the ineffective Raheem Sterling and, more surprisingly, Jude Bellingham.

Harry Kane heads a late chance wide in England's World Cup draw with USA
Image: Harry Kane heads a late chance wide in England’s World Cup draw with USA

Grealish won a couple of free-kicks around the USA’s box and Kane’s header from Shaw’s cross in the final moments flew wide. But with Phil Foden left on the bench, there will again be questions about the adventurousness of England’s manager.

England had a turgid draw with Scotland in their second group game at the Euros and went on to make the final. Their supporters will be hoping this will ultimately be seen as a point and clean sheet which takes England forward in this World Cup rather than an example of their limitations.

What does the result mean?

England must avoid losing to Wales by four goals on Tuesday in their 7pm kick-off to secure their place in the last-16.

USA must beat Iran in their fixture which takes place at the same time to leapfrog Carlos Queiroz’s side and make the knockouts.

Southgate: “I knew it would be difficult; we’re not going to sweep through everybody”

Gareth Southgate speaking to ITV:

“Exactly the sort of game I thought it would be – it was really tough against a good opponent who were very athletic.

“I knew it would be difficult for us after such a high to replicate that sort of performance [against Iran]. I’m really pleased with how the players have applied themselves.

“Some of our quality in the final third could’ve been a bit better, but we’ve shown great resilience to defend against an opponent that kept asking questions. We’ve controlled the game well from the back and just not been able to open them up with that really clear-cut chance.

“I think we didn’t have that same zip but that’s going to happen as it’s tournament football.

“We’re not going to roll through a tournament and sweep through everybody without having nights like this where you have to show different qualities in order to get the result.”

Reporter’s view: England unrecognisable from Iran win

Harry Kane holds off Tyler Adams
Image: Harry Kane holds off Tyler Adams

Sky Sports News’ Rob Dorsett in Qatar:

“There were boos all around the Al Bayt stadium at full-time. It would have been harsh if England had lost that game, but it would’ve been undeserved too had they won it.

“That late Kane header will stick in Southgate’s throat. It was there to win, and win ugly, in stoppage time.

“But equally, had Pulisic’s rasping drive in the first half been a foot lower, England could well have been on the wrong side of the result.

“USA harried and disrupted as we knew they would, and it really knocked England out of their stride, who were pedestrian and unrecognisable from the free-scoring and fluid team we saw against Iran four days ago.

“That was very much ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ from an England perspective. And it’s a reality check about where the team is at.

“A draw is by no means a disaster. England still top the group with four points and a very healthy goal difference.

“But it means the final Group B game against Wales still has much riding on it, and England will have to perform much, much better if they’re to sweep their British rivals aside and go through to the knockout stages with a spring in their step.”

Player of the match: Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire competes for the ball vs USA
Image: Harry Maguire competes for the ball vs USA

Sky Sports’ Peter Smith:

“The scrutiny and criticism of Harry Maguire has been intense over the past year. His absence from Manchester United’s starting XI for much of this season ramped up calls for Gareth Southgate to leave him out of his squad for this World Cup or at least bench him in favour of a more in-form defender.

“That was never going to happen, given Southgate’s respect for the centre back and the credit Maguire has in the bank in an England shirt. And on Friday night he fully vindicated his inclusion.

“There were eight clearances – more than twice as many as any other England player – as Maguire time and time again headed away USA corners in the second half. There was a vital block on a shot from Yunus Musah, with Maguire jockeying the advancing winger before timing his intervention perfectly.

“It was the kind of match which suited Maguire’s strengths, with England’s struggles in other areas of the pitch demanding a backs-to-the-walls mentality from their most experienced defender. Maguire rose to the challenge and proved a point.”

Opta stats: England scuppered by USA again

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USA midfielder Christian Pulisic believes his side put in a ‘solid performance’ against England and hopes everyone back home is proud of how they played.   

  • England have had 12 goalless draws at the World Cup, the most of any nation in the history of the World Cup. Meanwhile, this was the USA’s first-ever goalless draw at the World Cup.
  • England have never beaten the USA at the World Cup (D2 L1), only facing Brazil (four games) more often in the World Cup without winning.
  • USA kept a clean sheet against a European nation in the World Cup for the first time since they won 1-0 against England in 1950. They had gone 18 such games without one before today.
  • England have won just one of their last eight games in all competitions (D4 L3), having won six of their eight games before this.
  • England had just eight shots in this game, only attempting fewer in two World Cup matches on record since 1966: six vs the Republic of Ireland in 1990 and seven vs Poland in 1986.