England’s players may only have been 90 minutes older at the end of this, but some of the younger ones may have felt five years wiser.
Joe Gomez, for instance, deservedly voted man of the match, who can return to Liverpool having kept the shackles on Neymar. Harry Maguire, confidently bringing the ball out of the back, yet unashamed to plant the odd one into row Z when the occasion demanded. John Stones, growing with each game into England’s defensive leader. He’ll never be John Terry, but there is no better number for a defender than zero and three hours of football against Germany and Brazil have produced that for England’s opponents, combined.
There will be those who will be dissatisfied with this performance, who will have found England dull and unimaginative, outplayed for long periods by a superior Brazilian side. Yet what did they expect? That Gareth Southgate would throw in a few kids, they would do a few tricks, and then go out and play Brazil off the park?
For all of the attacking talent on display Brazil were largely kept in the first half, leaving Neymar and Co frustrated
Brazil without a doubt had the better of the contest but were frustrated by a dogged performance by England
Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s second appearance for England ended prematurely when he picked up a knock and was replaced
It was a shame for the Crystal Palace loanee after his England career began so brightly against Germany last week
John Stones had the unenviable task of keeping the Brazil front three quiet, here he denies Neymar with a well-timed boot
Liverpool youngster Dominic Solanke came off the bench for a cameo and made an impression on his debut for the full side
MATCH FACTS, RATINGS AND MATCH ZONE
England 5-3-2: Hart 7, Walker 6, Gomez 7, Stones 7.5, Maguire 6, Bertrand 6 (Young 79), Loftus-Cheek 6 (Lingard 35, 6), Dier 7, Livermore 5.5 (Rose 89), Vardy 6.5 (Solanke 76, 7.5), Rashford 6 (Abraham 76, 5.5).
Unused subs: Pickford, Trippier, Cahill, Keane, Cork, Cook, Gunn.
Manager: Gareth Southgate 6
Brazil 4-3-3: Alisson 6, Dani Alves 6, Marquinhos 6, Miranda 6, Marcelo 7, Casemiro 7, Paulinho 6.5, Renato Augusto 6.5 (Fernandinho 67, 6), Coutinho 5.5 (Willian 67, 6), Gabriel Jesus 6 (Firmino 76, 6), Neymar 6.5.
Unused subs: Ederson, Jemerson, Alex Sandro, Douglas Costa, Thiago Silva, Giuliano, Diego, Danilo, Taison, Diego Souza, Cassio.
Manager: Tite 6
Referee: Archer Manuel Ribeiro (Por)
Football isn’t like that. Football is real. And this Brazilian team are real, too, even if friendly conditions are artificial. Real skill, real talent, real intensity when they choose, real danger when attacking with purpose. So while these were far from World Cup conditions, this was a genuine test for a young England team and in their own limited way, they passed. They did not lose, they did not concede, they held their shape as the manager instructed, kept their discipline, and toughed it out.
From the start it was plain to see what Southgate intended. A different kind of lesson – the type his group might need if they catch a fair wind in time for summer. Last night’s tutorial: how to play against better opponents. How to stay in the game against a team that is superior technically.
Southgate sent out a side to keep it tight and look to win on the counter attack, so this was a partial success, at worst. He might even have been accused of playing for penalties, had they been a factor in a friendly game – or if that was not a suicidal tactic for an England manager.
The bottom line: if England had to face Brazil in Russia in a knockout game, that is what they would need to do – even with a full team. Yes, they would have more chance of biting back with a starting XI that included Harry Kane and Dele Alli, but Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy worked hard here, and there were occasions when England with cooler heads might have nicked one against the run of play, and won.
England started brightly with forward Marcus Rashford looking to use his pace and run at the Brazilian back line
Neymar was the man many at Wembley came to see, he was heavily involved with Brazil’s play going forward
After his man-of-the-match-display against Germany last week Ruben Loftus-Cheek kept his place in the England midfield
There was a hairy moment for restored England keeper Joe Hart when he had to make a rushed clearance on his left foot
It was late in the game when three England substitutes combined, finally finding the space to get in behind Brazil. Ashley Young crossed from the left, Tammy Abraham got the knockdown and Dominic Solanke’s touch eluded him at a vital time, allowing Roma goalkeeper Alisson to smother.
Solanke is another of those unlikely promotions that have been a hallmark of this international break, Southgate making his point that if senior players do not want to turn out, he will find keener, younger contenders who will. Equally, if England start playing this country’s youth, the pressure is placed on the clubs to do the same.
Sadly, there will always be moments like this: when the best chance of the night falls to inexperienced feet. The thought of scoring the winning goal against Brazil may have simply overwhelmed Solanke. Minutes later, the ball flashed across the six-yard box and Abraham could not get there, either.
Still, it was good experience. Maybe a better experience for the players than the fans, who have now watched three hours of goalless non-competitive football at Wembley as Southgate hones his World Cup squad. What will please him is that his young group – not quite a B team, but certainly not his A – can diligently execute a gameplan, albeit it an unambitious one.
The battle between Neymar and the Chelsea loanee was intriguing, with Loftus-Cheek refusing to back down
England full back Kyle Walker does his best Triple H impression as he looks to stay hydrated during the first half
The Samba flair was not just consigned to the pitch at Wembley, traditional dancers were on show to delight fans in the stands
Jamie Vardy was typically full of running as England turned to him to stretch the game with his searing pace
Hart was called into action when Gabriel Jesus got in behind, the keeper doing well to force the Manchester City striker wide
Brazil saw a lot of the ball, but did not forge many chances. Fernandinho had a low shot hit the base of a post after 76 minutes, Joe Hart made an excellent save at the feet of Dani Alves, prodded through by Neymar – but it was not much to show, given their superiority. With five minutes to go, Paulinho eluded Young and forced another save from Hart and by that time it would have felt truly unfortunate had England lost. Brazil were the better team, of course, but England’s hard work did not deserve to go unrewarded.
Credit should go to England’s back five, and the grafters further forward, closing down Brazil’s craftsmen. Passes went astray under pressure, of course – they tend to against much poorer teams than this, as well, which is part of England’s problem – but the determination was admirable, as were the energy levels.
Had England not stuck at their task, Brazil would have won; had they attempted a more ambitious gameplan, they would quite possibly have been caught. This might not have made for the most thrilling evening, and there was little that reminded of the Christian Eriksen show in Dublin, but here was an inexperienced England team playing experienced, intelligent football. It was, in its own way, better than the draw with Germany.
Rashford looked assured in possession, here the Manchester United man strikes at goal with Casemiro watching on
Jesse Lingard came on in place of Loftus-Cheek and was positive after his introduction, making one strong burst forward
Jesus thought he had got in behind the England but the flag went up to deny the forward as Hart came off his line
Harry Maguire continued in England’s back line, here the Leicester man battles for the ball with Real Madrid’s Casemiro
England were struggling to make much headway as the game progressed, here Rashford is crowded out on a raid forward
Credit is due, certainly, for the hard work keeping Brazil at bay in the first-half when they were liveliest. For all their excellent possession football, they did not greatly get in behind England’s youthful back three – although it was more of a five, with the full-backs forced deep – and Hart has had considerably busier matches playing for West Ham this season.
It must have been tiring, the concentration levels required to deal with Brazil, and perhaps that explained out of character aberrations, such as the Maguire pass misdirected into touch under no pressure. Rashford says he grew up idolising Brazil, and it showed. More than anyone in the England team, he seemed determined to emulate their skills, with varying degrees of success.
Brazil’s greatness, their most admirable quality, is comfort in possession in tight spaces. Their best players want the ball, no matter how close the attention; and their team-mates will pass it in such situations, too. There may be a marker, two markers, sometimes as many as three. No matter. Neymar will demand and service will be provided.
Brazil created their best chance of the night to that point when Neymar slipped in Jesus but Hart rushed out to save well
It was the first time Brazil truly unlocked England but Maguire and Hart conspired to snuff out Philippe Coutinho and Jesus
Jake Livermore was not going to be intimidated by Dani Alves when the pair clashed near the touchline
There was a scare for Manchester City when Jesus went down after a robust challenge, but he was fit enough to continue
Alves managed to get himself in the book when he went in late on Ryan Bertand during a testy second half
Yet England’s players earned equally merited praise by doggedly snapping at heels, hustling and hassling. Brazil had close to 70 per cent of possession in the opening 30 minutes, but it seemed more.
Neymar, in particular was exceptional. On one occasion, in full flow, he slipped the ball through the legs of Jake Livermore who continued his charge to close down like Wile E. Coyote, little realising he had run out of cliff.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s flicks and tricks were much lauded against Germany but, sadly, this evening could not have ended more differently for the young man. He limped off after 34 minutes, injured, and was replaced by Jesse Lingard, a rare disappointment at the end of a generally encouraging nine days.
Sometimes it seems like Neymar is playing at his own speed and this picture only serves to reinforce that idea
England boss Gareth Southgate continued to show his faith in youth as he brought on Dominic Solanke and Tammy Abraham
Solanke had a near instant impact as he broke through from midfield and eventually drew a foul from Casemiro
Fernandinho was the player to go closest to breaking the deadlock as his effort from range struck the foot of the post
Eric Dier had a chance to make himself a hero with a free-kick 25 yards out but put his effort drifted well wide
England’s best chance came to Solanke late on but a loose touch allowed Brazil keeper Alisson to rush out and block