SOUTHGATE’S SIMBAS CAN SAMBA TOO
Another young and inexperienced England line-up were again equal to one of the world’s top teams at Wembley. A star-studded Brazil side failed to break down England’s disciplined defensive display as, again, it ended goalless for The Three Lions.
Joe Gomez made his first start for England at another cram-packed Wembley Stadium. Joe Hart returned to the starting line-up in place of Friday’s class performer Jordan Pickford. Brazil’s line-up was tipped by many to be about as close to full-strength as has been seen, with Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho all starting in attack for the South Americans.
It was actually The Three Lions that broke forward first – Marcus Rashford carrying the ball forward. The young man cut inside and shot well, but it was an easy enough catch for goalkeeper Alisson. It was on thirty-five minutes that Ruben Loftus-Cheek, man-of-the-match against Germany, had to be replaced as a recurring hamstring injury got the better of him. Jesse Lingard came on. The match really got going. Paulinho of Barcelona, formerly a Tottenham Hotspur player, clattered a half-chance high and wide, before an aerial last-ditch challenge from John Stones prevented a one-on-one between Neymar and Joe Hart. No Englishman in the stadium wanted any part of that. An industrial, Brazil-dominated, and yet largely unremarkable, half came to a close.
The first chance of an overall livelier second half fell, unsurprisingly, to the Brazilians. A largely unchallenged Neymar foray forward saw the PSG striker cut sharply inside Stones before putting Gabriel Jesus through with a cute, tucked pass. In the end, the pass forward was better for Liverpool’s Coutinho, who slid down and shot against the body of Joe Hart. England survived another attack.
Premier League trio Willian, Fernandinho and Roberto Firmino appeared as Brazilian substitutes. Gareth Southgate replaced strikers Jamie Vardy and Rashford with Tammy Abraham and Dominic Solanke – whose Golden Boot status as an u-20 World Cup winner this year will have contributed hugely to his England senior debut here.
Immediately after the delays of swapping and changing elevens, Brazil capitalised on an Eric Dier mistake to rush forward. Fernandinho decided to go it alone, shooting low from thrity-five yards – it clipping the post on its way through. The first glimmer of England looking a little unfit to handle one of the world’s very best sides.
Next came a moment to shout about for Manchester United’s Ashley Young. The different approaches of United’s recent managers have seen him represent the Premier league side in just about every position in the past five or so years. His inspired work ethic led to a recall to the England squad for the first time since 2013 here, and he came on for the last ten minutes. He had not been on the field twenty seconds, before he was needed to make a trademark block. Neymar put Willian through, and Young’s best efforts were enough to stop an almost certain opening goal. Another moment of English tire came about not two minutes later. Neymar again launched his team up the pitch with a typical Neymar dribble, before sliding the ball through to his former Barcelona teammate Paulinho. The veteran midfielder flung the ball toward Joe Hart, who chested it away well, mid-dive.
As a testament to England’s incredible defending in this match, possibly its best chance fell to England, on eighty-eight minutes. Jesse Lingard carried the ball forward in true Neymar style, before feeding Ashley Young out wide. The winger crossed well, and it bounced over a body of heads all the way to debutant Solanke, unmarked, six yards from goal. A skim off of one head on the way through had confused Solanke, whose touch duly suffered. The ball went rolling around for a while, before Alisson came out to block the Liverpool man’s final attempt.
The match saw its final opportunity in the final minute of added time. A stupid decision from Marcelo to attempt an unneeded piece of skill resulted in England’s Solanke bringing the ball forward and supplying Kyle Walker on the right-hand side. Striker Abraham gambled, running towards the front post. But Walker’s low cross was very much intended to be hammered home at the back post. The ball trickled on through, and England’s match, again, ended goalless. Brazil came to win, but they never did manage to. Neymar was restricted to wild efforts from forty-yards out in a match that ended England 0-0 Brazil.