England boss Gareth Southgate has heaped praise on centre-backs Harry Maguire and John Stones, while also explaining why Phil Foden didn’t make it onto the pitch.
England were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw by the USA on Friday night. Their only two good chances fell to captain Harry Kane, who had a shot blocked early on and sent a header wide of the target in stoppage time.
Instead, it was the USA who had more control of the ball and more opportunities.
Weston McKennie should have scored in the 26th minute when he was picked out in a great position in the box. But the Juventus midfielder sent his shot over on the half volley.
Not long afterwards, Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic slammed the ball against the crossbar with a venomous strike.
Ultimately, the two sides played out a goalless draw. It puts England in a strong position to qualify for the knockout stages, although there will be some concerns about the performance.
When asked to give his reaction on ITV Sport, Southgate replied: “Exactly the sort of game I thought it would be. Really tough, a good opponent who are very athletic. I knew it would be difficult for us, after such a high, to replicate that performance. I’m really pleased with how the players have applied themselves.
“Some of our quality in the final third could have been better, but we showed great resilience to defend against an opponent that kept asking questions. We’ve controlled the game from the back [but] not been able to open [them] up with that clear-cut chance.”
When asked what was missing in attack, Southgate added: “It was that zip, but that’s what happens. This is tournament football, you’re never gonna roll through a tournament and sweep through everybody.”
Gareth Southgate answers Phil Foden questions
Some will have been surprised to see Foden remain on the bench when England were looking for a goal. On this, the Three Lions boss said: “We thought it was the right thing to keep the [same] team from the start.
“The wide players, we went with Jack [Grealish] and Marcus [Rashford] on the changes. We thought Jack would keep the ball well and get us up the pitch. And Marcus, his speed, we thought would also be a threat coming into that last part of the game.”
When asked what needs to improve for the Wales match, Southgate went on to laud centre-backs Maguire and Stones. “It’ll be a totally different game. I’m so pleased with how we’ve built from the back, they [USA] make it really difficult to build.
“Our two centre-backs with the ball were absolutely outstanding, they controlled the game. I don’t think people appreciate how good they are and they both defended their box brilliantly.”
On whether it’s a point gained, Southgate declared: “Yeah, for me. Silver medal today was a point because it puts us in a really strong place for qualification. If we can win our last game then we win the group. The objective is to get out of the group. We’ve done it in two games at our last two tournaments, it’s unrealistic to expect that every time.”
Attention then turned to skipper Kane, who had been a worry due to an ankle problem. “I’ve not been able to assess any players post game,” Southgate admitted. “But he’s obviously got through the game fine and his hold up play and link up play was very important for us.”
Draw ‘puts us in a strong position’, says Harry Maguire
Defender Maguire added: “Wasn’t our best but in the end it’s a point, it puts us in a strong position in the group. World Cup games are never easy and we knew coming into this they’re a good team. We had to work hard out there, we could have nicked it at the end.
“They had a couple of good chances but we could have been more clinical with our chances and we probably would have won the game. We’ll take the positive parts but we’ll work on the parts we need to improve on.”
When asked what was missing from the 6-2 thrashing of Iran, Maguire added: “We weren’t clinical [or] ruthless enough in the final third. We didn’t execute the final pass well enough. But we know we have good forwards in this team so I’m sure they’ll do that.”
Maguire continued: “Big credit to the lads because they put us under pressure at the start of the second half and we dug in and got the clean sheet.
“We knew we’d stay in control of the group, four points from two games. Of course, we wanted to win the game tonight and see the job through but we’re looking forward to the next one.”
Meanwhile, Man Utd have been shown why they need to beat Liverpool to the signing of an attacker following a top World Cup performance.