Sluggish England frustrated in US stalemate
England missed a chance to book their place in the World Cup last 16 as Gareth Southgate’s side produced a limp display in their 0-0 draw against the United States on Friday.
Southgate’s men would have been guaranteed to advance from Group B with a victory in their second game of the tournament, but they rarely troubled a determined US team.
Having thrashed Iran 6-2 on Monday, England lacked the urgency they showed in their opening game and were booed off at full-time.
They managed just one shot on target and could easily have conceded in the first half when the US were in control for long periods at the Al Bayt Stadium.
For the third time in three World Cup meetings with the US, England failed to live up to their status as favourites.
After a shocking defeat in the 1950 tournament and a 1-1 draw in 2010, this was another defiant American effort against England, cooling some of the hype around the Three Lions following the Iran rout.
Although it was an extremely underwhelming performance from England, they are still in control of their own destiny.
A draw in their final group game against Wales on November 29 would ensure England progress to the knockout stages, while a victory would seal first place.
The US, who have drawn their first two games, play Iran on the same day knowing a win would send them into the last 16.
Gregg Berhalter’s group are the second youngest team at the World Cup, but a day after America celebrated Thanksgiving they left sluggish England looking like they were the ones who had indulged in too much turkey.
With Harry Kane and Harry Maguire recovered from an ankle injury and illness respectively, England named an unchanged team for the first time since the 2018 World Cup semi-final defeat against Croatia.
But, whereas England dominated possession against timid Iran from the opening moments, they found the US far more willing to press higher up the pitch.
– Laboured England –
The US desire to engage England briefly left space in behind them and Jude Bellingham’s buccaneering run and pass freed Bukayo Saka down the right side of the US area.
Saka’s cross reached Kane, whose goalbound shot was blocked by Walker Zimmerman.
That near-miss proved a mirage in the desert for England as Haji Wright, a surprise selection in place of Josh Sargent, had the Americans’ first sight of goal with a well-timed run into the area for a header that whistled wide.
It was a warning that the US could trouble England and moments later Weston McKennie should have put them ahead.
Timothy Weah’s cross from wide on the right eluded the flat-footed England defence and the unmarked McKennie pulled the trigger from 10 yards, only to fire just wide of the relieved Pickford’s goal.
Showing no signs of being intimidated by England, Berhalter’s side was inches away from turning the enterprising display into a stunning lead when Christian Pulisic jinked into space and lashed a rising drive against the crossbar from just inside the area.
Giving the ball away far too easily and laboured in their build-up play, England looked rattled and Pulisic tested their fraying nerves with a header that glanced wide.
In a rare moment of menace from England, Saka’s pass found Mason Mount and Chelsea’s midfielder’s low drive from 20 yards brought a first save from US keeper Matt Turner.
Epitomising the US spirit that was such a contrast to England’s lethargy, Tyler Adams crunched into a tackle on Saka, winning the ball and roaring in delight afterwards.
England remained stuck in first gear yet Kane nearly snatched an undeserved winner in stoppage time when he headed wide from Luke Shaw’s free-kick.