By Akshay Kulkarni (@ImpatientPedant)
A weakened England side were able to hold their own against a full-strength Brazil team at Wembley on Tuesday night, drawing 0-0.
Both teams made five changes apiece, and were thus slow to place a mark on the match.
Goalkeeper Joe Hart was the notable recall and the West Ham United stopper kept England’s first clean sheet against the ‘Selecao’ since Peter Shilton in 1984.
Brazil subsitute Fernandinho came closest to scoring with a fizzing drive that struck the outside of the post in the second half. His compatriots were marshaled well by England’s three-man defence throughout.
Liverpool centre back Joe Gomez, making his full England debut, particularly impressed. But, England had little to offer going forward, with Marcus Rashford and substitute Dominic Solanke, the brightest sparks on a dull North London night for the Three Lions.
Forward, Solanke was one of three new additions to the England set-up. The other two, goalkeeper Angus Gunn and AFC Bournemouth youngster Lewis Cook, did not feature. England’s starting lineup was still considerably changed, however. Kyle Walker, Ryan Bertrand, Rashford, Gomez and of course, Hart were all changes from the goalless stalemate against Germany on Friday night.
Unlike that match, the first half of this game was light on action. Both teams had to resort to wayward shots from outside the box throughout the first 45. Brazil’s attacking trio of Neymar, Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus did not seem to be able to penetrate the resilient England defence and consistently gave the ball away in the final third.
The English did not capitalize, however, attempting searching balls towards the strikers, which were being repelled by the experienced Brazilian backline.
Manager Gareth Southgate opted to retain the same midfield three who started against Germany, with Eric Dier and Jake Livermore playing a deeper role whilst Ruben Loftus-Cheek was once again allowed the freedom to advance further forward.
But, the Crystal Palace playmaker, who put in a man of the match display on his debut had his second match in an England shirt cut drastically short as he hobbled off with a back injury after just 35 minutes and was replaced by Jesse Lingard.
The second half got off to a quick start, with Hart having to save smartly from a low Coutinho shot. From then on, it almost resembled an end-to-end contest. It only went to show how ineffective both attacks were, however.
Each burst upfield resulted in an immediate loss of possession, and a counterattack for either team. One such counter resulted in perhaps the best chance of the match, with Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho smashing a low drive, which agonizingly glanced off the far post in the 75th minute.
At the other end, only Rashford and his eventual replacement Solanke, frequently dribbled past the Brazil defence. They however failed to find a killer pass, something Southgate should be well aware of. Solanke did set up a late Kyle Walker shot which flashed across the face of goal. He also won a freekick seconds after coming on, bursting through the midfield only for captain Eric Dier to fire wide. The Three Lions were unable to create anything of note otherwise.
Nonetheless, Southgate can learn much from the goalless draws England have played during this international break. His faith in youth has been rewarded. After this set of fixtures, even squad veterans will be unsure of their place on the Russia 2018 plane. This will certainly create a competitive environment leading up to the World Cup next summer
England’s next fixtures are against Netherlands and Italy in March. Those matches promise to be exciting for the tenacious new England.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Joe Gomez
England: Hart; Gomez, Stones, Maguire; Walker, Dier, Livermore, Bertrand; Loftus-Cheek; Vardy, Rashford.
Substitutes: Pickford, Gunn, Trippier, Rose, Cahill, Keane, Cork, Cook, Lingard, Young, Abraham, Solanke
Brazil: Allison; Alves, Marquinhos, Miranda, Marcelo; Casemiro, Paulinho, Renato Augusto; Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus, Neymar.
Substitutes: Ederson, Taison, Danilo, T. Silva, Sandro, Ramos, Fernandinho, de Paula, Willian, Diego, Firmino, D. Costa, de Jesus Nascimento, de Souza Andrade