England edged closer to a place in the World Cup knockout rounds with a 0-0 draw with USA but their lacklustre display was a reality check on their ambitions at the tournament and means they will have to wait until their final group game with Wales on Tuesday to seal a last-16 spot.
After England thumped Iran 6-2 in their opening fixture in Qatar there was optimism among their supporters about their team building on their run to the final of the Euros last summer. But by the final whistle there were boos from those travelling fans, with Gareth Southgate’s side badly off the pace and disjointed against an energetic US team.
Christian Pulisic crashed a first-half shot against the bar and Harry Maguire had to head away a series of corners as the Americans put the pressure on in the second half. While there was no way through to emulate the famous upset in this fixture of 1950, USA did enough to recalibrate perceptions about England’s prospects and boost their own hopes of progressing.
Harry Kane’s blocked shot at the start of the match and his header wide from Luke Shaw’s free-kick in second-half stoppage time was as close as the toothless Three Lions attack came to troubling USA during an alarming performance.
Only a defeat to Wales by four goals or more would prevent group leaders England from making the next stage but Southgate will have to field questions about the big drop-off in his team’s performance and how they can rediscover form for the business phase of this competition
USA, meanwhile, sit third in Group B, a point behind Iran, who they face on Tuesday. A win would see them into the last 16.
England, fresh from cutting loose against Iran, showed purpose in the opening stages, with Kane’s goal-bound effort blocked after Bukayo Saka’s cutback and Mason Mount’s shot over after a dribble in the box by Maguire.
But soon their possession lacked purpose and, without the ball, Southgate’s side looked uncertain and uncoordinated as Haji Wright headed wide, Weston McKennie fired a good opening over and former England youth international Yunus Musah saw a shot deflected into Jordan Pickford’s grasp.
The growing concern about England’s performance from the travelling support in the stands at Al Bayt Stadium was compounded when Pulisic smashed a fierce left-foot shot against the frame of Pickford’s goal from just inside the box.
Maguire then did well to block a dangerous effort from Sergino Dest and Pulisic headed wide, with England hanging on for half-time. A late shot over from Saka and the Three Lions’ first shot on target of the match in stoppage time from Mount did little to mask England’s struggles in the opening 45 minutes.
There was no improvement after the break, either, with John Stones having to block from Wright, McKennie again shooting over, Pulisic’s dig deflected wide and USA ramping up the pressure around the hour mark with a run of corners.
In the 68th minute Southgate finally made his move, sending on Jordan Henderson and Jack Grealish for the ineffective Raheem Sterling and, more surprisingly, Jude Bellingham.
Grealish won a couple of free-kicks around the USA’s box and Kane’s header from Shaw’s cross in the final moments flew wide. But with Phil Foden left on the bench, there will again be questions about the adventurousness of England’s manager.
England had a turgid draw with Scotland in their second group game at the Euros and went on to make the final. Their supporters will be hoping this will ultimately be seen as a point and clean sheet which takes England forward in this World Cup rather than an example of their limitations