England 0-0 Brazil: Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions Selecao stalemate
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Gareth Southgate’s England drew 0-0 for the second time in four days at Wembley Stadium, this time against Brazil in front of 84,595 fans.
Gareth Southgate, emboldened by his young side’s promising showing against Germany during the Friday’s goalless draw, continued in the same vein.
Unfortunately the scoreline also mirrored the match four days earlier. And this time there wasn’t as much to cheer about.
Brazil gave the home side a chastening reminder of the level they must reach to be in with a chance of glory next summer. Quite simply their movement, pressing and passing was on a different level to the more pedestrian effort from England.
With 41 goals scored in topping the South American qualifying group – nine more than anyone else – in 18 games, with only 11 conceded, five fewer than anyone else, coach Tite’s side are a seriously balanced unit.
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Yes, the team that played in their country’s 26th match against England – boasting 11 wins, 11 draws and only four defeats before kick-off on Tuesday – was arguably one of the strongest sides this football-mad country could field, in their search for atonement after ‘The 7-1’ as it is known.
With the impressive deep lying midfielder Renato Augusto looking to build from the back at every opportunity, while also denying time and space to Southgate’s raw forward line, Brazil’s catastrophic defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semi-final at Belo Horizonte could be avenged by next summer.
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For this side have to be considered one of the favourites. With the agricultural Casemiro bossing the midfield, feeding the ball to Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus, Liverpool’s Phillipe Coutinho, Bernabeu colleague Marcelo and of course PSG’s £178 million Neymar, not many teams will outgun them.
If you throw in the born-again Paulinho, now a pivotal player in the side, after his unfortunate early sojourns in Lithuania and Poland, and losing his way, as he explains it, under ‘The Englishman’ – Tim Sherwood – during an ill-fated spell at Spurs before a triumphant resurgence with Tite. First at club side Corinthians under the wily 47-year-old before he was appointed the coach to restore their pride, then with the Selecao, with who he scored six goals in qualifying.
Paulinho’s metronomic off-the-ball running and disciplined positioning was redemption personified compared to the sorry individual not even Mauricio Pochettino could revive.
Tite’s opposing number Southgate, despite making five changes – bringing in Joe Hart, Joe Gomez, Kyle Walker, Ryan Bertrand and Marcus Rashford for Jordan Pickford, Phil Jones, Kieran Trippier, Ryan Bertrand and Tammy Abraham – still picked an experimental side.
With Jones and Betrand not on the bench it will be interesting to see just how many of the young tyros Southgate selected as substitutes against the five-time world champions will make it to Russia next summer.
As it was the replacements were inexperienced to say the least, with Dominic Solanke, Lewis Cook, Angus Gunn, all in the frame for a debut – and Jack Cork and Jordan Pickford and Abraham all on a solitary cap.
Southgate is dammed if he does and dammed if he doesn’t. For how many times have we bemoaned the fact that previous managers have steadfastly refused to blood young players during plodding performances by over-paid and under-motivated established stars.
However there is a feeling Southgate has missed a trick by not selecting Jack Wilshere for the two fixtures against the 2014 World Cup winners and semi-finalists thereby missing out on his composure and aggression allied with a technical ability comparable with the visitors.
This correspondent has witnessed four out of the last six clashes between these two proud football nations – including the disappointment of the 2-1 defeat in Shizuoka in Japan in the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup. With the solitary triumph, the 2-1 in February 2013 – when Wilshere gave arguably his best display in an England shirt.
As it was young tyro Ruben Loftus-Cheek showed a tenacity in the opening stages by refusing to be cowed by Neymar, hassling and denying him space to turn. It was an encouraging vignette because if this talented 21-year-old can ally hard-work with his undoubted talent he could well have a chance to light up Russia next summer.
Despite a couple of breaks in which Jamie Vardy used his pace and streetwise nous to break down the right flank, England were pushed deeper and deeper through Brazil’s shape which appeared to be a hybrid of 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1 depending on if they were in possession. It was such a fluid tactical shape 4-3-3 occasionally slipped into a robust 4-5-1 with the widemen up front dropping back to bolster the midfield when fighting to regain possession.
With such a deep lying backline it made England’s worthy aims all the more difficult, especially when John Stones looked to play it out from defence.
It didn’t take them long to realised Brazil’s workaholic forward line were going to chase down every ball – so they opted for pragmatism, looking to go long rather than build from the back as Brazil began to dominate possession by denying them time and space on the ball.
Dani Alves fired wide early on along with Neymar but it was instructive to watch the balance from the majority of the visitors which had such a grace it was almost balletic at times, especially from the PSG man. Where mere mortals cut inside he simply glided past his man.
It was a real shame Loftus-Cheek had to come off on 35 minutes for Jessie Lingard as he could have learned how to ally technique with hard work. Let’s hope he is back soon, confidence – and body – intact for he is a real prospect for England. Now he needs to stay fit and play regularly for the next few months – which is easier said than done.
But as Artur Dias the Portuguese referee blew for the interval it was fair to say the Selecao gave Southgate’s experimental side a lesson in pressing, passing and movement - even if there were again bright spots for the Three Lions.
Brazil started with the second half with more urgency as Neymar fed Gabriel Jesus. The ball ran away from the Manchester City forward but Coutinho picked it up and saw a low shot turned away by the legs of Hart.
It was the West Ham man’s first real save of the match and showed his concentration levels are good – perhaps spurred on by the prospect of Pickford being a genuine contender for the No1 jersey after his excellent display in keeping a clean sheet against the Germans.
There then occurred a hugely-instructive moment. Real Madrid’s Casemiro robbed a ponderous Eric Dier on the halfway line. Fernandinho collected the ball as those long telescopic legs drove him on before he fired narrowly wide. In the space of seconds England lost ball in the middle and moments later could’ve been 1-0 down.
The message was clear – if you casually lose possession in crucial areas you’ll get punished in tournaments.
There followed scrappy play, even if there was an acknowledgement Brazil’s starting XI was a strong one while England’s was not.
You couldn’t help wondering how the game would have panned out if you threw in a fit Harry Kane and Dele Alli into the fray alongside the ever-developing Harry Winks. If you added the flowering of Rashford and the hoped-for progression of Loftus-Cheek and – whisper it – a fit and firing Wilshere, then Southgate could have had the makings of a promising side to play Tite’s men.
Tuesday’s match continued to absorb and frustrate in equal measures as again Vardy showed a pace and trickery but with no end product.
And as the game petered out for the second time in four days Solanke made his England debut, replacing the ineffectual Leicester man while Abraham replaced Rashford in the opposite of what happened against Germany.
As referee Dias blew for the final whistle the best you can say was Southgate’s young side kept a clean sheet and avoided defeat. Again. Which is no mean feat against the Brazilians. But as Southgate acknowledged afterwards the team still has a long way to go.
Tite for his part said in an elongated post-match press conference: “There were different systems. One team tried to hold high line and keep possession. The other was more defensive and compact and waiting for a mistake. I can’t recall any England opportunities that scared us.
“If there was to be a winner tonight it should have been Brazil...England played in a medium to low line with an opportunity to attack us with their fast players. “They were betting on us ‘losing our mind’. They were like ice - they were cool and never lost their minds
“England’s first corner was 80 minutes. Don’t expect a show in every match. We were playing against a different football style. I don’t believe England will play like this at the World Cup but when you have fewer opportunities you have to be effective to score goals.”
Neymar and co’s skills and work rate gave Southgate’s raw Lions a reality check – but that aside England were crying out for someone with the skills and composure of Wilshere in the middle of the park.
Who knows by the time the finals come round Southgate himself may concede it is a truth that should be universally acknowledged.
But it could be too late by then.