England coach Gareth Southgate acknowledged his side had failed to repeat their early World Cup attacking fluency in their 0-0 draw with the United States, but said success in major tournaments often required such gritty performances.
England opened their campaign in Qatar with an adventurous 6-2 win over Iran on Monday, raising hopes that they were finally finding their scoring form again just in time for the World Cup.
But the boos that rang out around the Al Bayt Stadium at the end of their largely drab draw with the United States on Friday suggested those expectations might prove premature.
“Yes, we lacked a little bit of zip and quality in the final third and we weren’t able to open up, to create really good chances,” Southgate told reporters. “But we had to show another side of ourselves.”
He said his players stood up to a deluge of corners and set-pieces by a U.S. side that grew in confidence and came closest to winning the contest when Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic smacked a shot against the crossbar in the first half.
“To be a successful team at a tournament, you have to show those different faces and we did that tonight,” Southgate said.
“I’m sure there’ll be a lot of noise about the performance. But not many teams go through World Cups and get nine points in the group.”
Southgate offered most praise to his central defenders Harry Maguire and John Stones.
“Personally, I am really pleased with the application of the players,” he said. “To come off the high of the performance of the other day and find that same energy and level of quality was always going to be a challenge.”
Southgate – a former England defender who as a coach led his country to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018 and the final of Euro 2020 – faced growing criticism in the run-up to the World Cup when England’s form nose-dived.
On Friday, he managed to stop the way the Americans were cutting through England’s midfield by bringing on the experienced Jordan Henderson as a substitute for 19-year-old Jude Bellingham halfway through the second half.
But the arrival of winger Jack Grealish off the bench for Raheem Sterling offered only fleeting moments of pace for England who were relieved to hear the final whistle.
The draw leaves the Three Lions top of Group B, one point ahead of Iran and two ahead of the United States, and still likely to advance to the first knockout round. England play their last group game against bottom-placed Wales on Tuesday.