Southgate extracts positives

England's John Stones putting in a high but fair last-ditch challenge to deny Brazil's Neymar a clear run at goal. The Brazilian showed glimpses of his wizardry with the ball at Wembley, but ultimately could not break down a defence well-marshalled b
England's John Stones putting in a high but fair last-ditch challenge to deny Brazil's Neymar a clear run at goal. The Brazilian showed glimpses of his wizardry with the ball at Wembley, but ultimately could not break down a defence well-marshalled by Stones.PHOTO: REUTERS

England manager heartened by rearguard standing firm against Neymar-led Brazilian attack

LONDON • Gareth Southgate expressed pride in England's young defence as his side drew 0-0 with Brazil in a friendly on Tuesday, four days after a similar stalemate against world champions Germany.

More encouraging for Southgate was the fact their performances came despite injuries and withdrawals of several first-choice players for the double-header against the nations standing first and second in Fifa's rankings.

On Tuesday, he fielded a three-man defence with Manchester City's 23-year-old John Stones flanked by Liverpool's man-of-the-match Joe Gomez, 20, and Leicester's Harry Maguire, 24.

Brazil's attacking options included the world's most expensive player Neymar and Premier League stars Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho, yet the visitors were kept safely at arm's length.

England offered far less going forward than they did against Germany - which was not surprising as they struggled to get a kick at times - but Brazil never carved them open and were restricted to only a handful of chances at Wembley.

"I'm more proud tonight than I was against Germany," Southgate told reporters after England kept a clean sheet against Brazil for the first time in their last 11 meetings.

"We have found so many positives because it won't get much tougher than it was for them (England's players) tonight. They will gain huge confidence from tonight.

"I thought they all did very well. We know about Joe's (Gomez) athleticism but I thought his decision-making and calmness in the face of dealing with high-quality movement was fantastic.

"John Stones showed his defensive attributes tonight. He was mature and controlled the line and was calm in possession.

"And Harry, he was a real plus. he started a little anxiously but he grew in confidence."

England conceded only three goals in qualifying for next year's World Cup but Germany and five-time world champions Brazil, who also easily qualified for the Finals in Russia, were a major step up in the quality of opposition.

"We have come through with two clean sheets and the system has worked well," Southgate added.

"We limited both teams to very few clear-cut chances. When you put young players in, you could get beaten by four and then you are questioning the decision.

"But they really stepped up in the two matches."

Southgate also believes England's pair of draws against both Brazil and Germany have helped repair the bond between the team and their supporters that has frayed at times in the last 18 months.

"I think and hope that the English public have seen that these boys have given everything, they've played with pride and passion," he said.

Brazil have won 13 of the 17 matches they had played since Tite became coach in June last year.

In light of his side's struggles to break down England on Tuesday, Tite said he would consider deploying Liverpool's Coutinho in midfield and start Willian in attack, the Chelsea winger having come on from the bench.

"If you have Coutinho in perfect condition, 100 per cent fit, we could try to use him in the middle and Willian as a winger," said the Brazil coach.

"Right now, Coutinho is playing like this for Liverpool. If he was in a normal position, we could try this."

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2017, with the headline 'Southgate extracts positives'. Print Edition | Subscribe