By William Schomberg
AL KHOR, Qatar (Reuters) – England coach Gareth Southgate acknowledged his side failed to repeat the attacking fluency of the first World Cup in a 0-0 draw with the United States, but said success in major tournaments it often requires such gritty performance.
England opened their season in Qatar with an adventurous 6-2 win over Iran on Monday, stoking hopes of finally regaining their scoring form just in time for the World Cup.
But the boos that rang around Al Bayt Stadium at the end of the largely gray tie with the United States on Friday suggested those expectations could prove premature.
“Yes, we lacked a bit of speed and quality in the last third and weren’t able to open up, create really good chances,” Southgate told reporters. “But we had to show another side of ourselves.”
He said his players weathered a deluge of corners and set pieces from a USA side that grew in confidence and came closest to winning when Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic hit the crossbar in the first half.
“To be a successful team in a tournament, you have to show those different faces and we did that tonight,” said Southgate.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of noise about the performance. But there aren’t many teams that get past the World Cup and get nine points in the group.”
Southgate offered the most praise to their centre-backs Harry Maguire and John Stones.
“Personally, I’m really happy with the gamers’ application,” he said. “To emerge from the peak performance of the other day and find the same energy and the same level of quality was always going to be a challenge.”
Southgate – a former England defender who as manager took his country to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2018 and the final of Euro 2020 – has faced mounting criticism in the run-up to the World Cup, when England’s form it collapsed.
On Friday, he managed to halt the way the Americans were cutting into England’s midfield by bringing in the experienced Jordan Henderson as a substitute for 19-year-old Jude Bellingham midway through the second half.
But the arrival of winger Jack Grealish off the bench for Raheem Sterling offered only fleeting moments of pace for England, who were relieved to hear the final whistle.
The draw leaves the Three Lions top of Group B, one point clear of Iran and two clear of the United States, and could still progress to the round of 16. England play their final group match against bottom-of-the-table Wales on Tuesday.
(Report by William Schomberg Editing by Christian Radnedge)