Gareth Southgate admitted England lacked “zip and quality in the final third” in their goalless draw with the US, but defended the decision not to play Phil Foden.
A laboured England were unable to breakdown Gregg Berhalter’s side at the Al Bayt Stadium and were fortunate not to even lose the Group B clash, with Southgate’s players booed off at the full-time whistle.
And while praising the performance at the back of Harry Maguire and John Stones, the England manager did concede his team had struggled to create many clear openings in Al Khor.
“Were we booed off though? I’m not sure if that was aimed at us, I do not know, but look personally I’m really pleased with the application of the players, it was a really tough opponent, they defended incredibly well,” said Southgate in his post-match press conference.
“To come off the high of the performance the other day and find that same energy, level of quality was always going to be a challenge. Their front six make it so difficult to play through and get at their defence and I thought we actually controlled the game really well.
“Our two centre backs were absolutely outstanding with the ball, to play with such composure against the sort of pressure and angles that the USA team press with is unbelievably difficult. And it is only when you have two players like we have that you really appreciate the strain of the game they can take.
“Yes, we lacked a little bit of zip and quality in the final third and we were not able to open up to create really good chances, but we had to show another side of ourselves in terms of the resilience without the ball, the recovery runs, defending our box well, defending any number of corners and set plays that came in.”
England remain top of the group and will now qualify for the last 16 of the tournament if they avoid a 4-0 defeat in their final game against Wales on Tuesday night.
And Southgate was pleased with the resilience his players showed in grinding out the point that now sees them on the cusp of qualification for the knockouts.
“To be a successful team in a tournament, you have got to show those different faces and I think we did that tonight and I am sure there will be a lot of noise about the performance, but not many teams go through World Cups and get nine points in the group,” he added.
“We are in a good position, we have a little bit more to do to qualify still, but we also have the opportunity to win the group, so for me the players were very down and disappointed after the game, but I told them that is not how it is going to be for the next few days because I thought they showed another side to what they are about and it is going to be important going forward.”
Southgate opted to introduce Jack Grealish and Jordan Henderson with a quarter of the game to go, before Marcus Rashford also entered the fray 10 minutes later as England sought a late breakthrough.
However, Manchester City forward Phil Foden was left as an unused substitute, a decision he defended after the game.
“Whichever one of our forwards we didn’t put on and we didn’t win the game, I was going to be sitting here answering the question as to why I didn’t put them on,” said Southgate.
“We wanted to change the wide areas. We didn’t think it was a game for Phil in the middle because he doesn’t play there for his club.
“Defensively, it was a really complicated game for the midfield three to work out. It’s partly why we felt Hendo [Jordan Henderson] could help us at that moment as well as giving Jude [Bellingham] the physical rest.
“It was a game for experience in that middle area, so then it was a decision on the wide players and we thought Marcus [Rashford]’s speed would be important and give us something different, and we put Jack [Grealish] on just before that at a time when we weren’t getting hold of the ball and we felt he could carry it up the pitch to relieve some pressure on our middle third.
“Without doubt we could have gone with Phil as he’s a super player and we love him. Maybe, things could’ve been different, but that was the choice we went with on the night.”
Neville: Foden should have started
Meanwhile, Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville thinks Southgate made a mistake by not starting with Foden against the US.
“I’m torn by it as I’ve got huge respect for Gareth Southgate,” he told ITV after the game. “He’s achieved far more than any of the other managers since Sir Alf Ramsey, but we’ve got a couple of talents there sat on the bench in Trent Alexander-Arnold and Phil Foden.
“I was disappointed not to see Foden. For me, that talent is huge. I’ve not seen anything like it. We’ve got Bellingham and Grealish among others and Gareth prefers Mount and Sterling.
“For Foden not to be in the starting XI, and to not come off the bench was interesting.”
And the former England full-back and Manchester United captain also believes this was a game crying out for the introduction of Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold.
“In terms of opening up the game, Alexander-Arnold has got one of the best deliveries you’re going to see from a full-back” he added. “Down that right-hand side when Marcus Rashford came on, he had Henderson and Trippier so he was blocked in a way from getting the sort of delivery and combinations you’d want.
“Those two not coming off the bench was disappointing as they’re world-class talents. Other nations: Spain, Brazil and France – would probably have Alexander-Arnold and Foden in the starting XI.
“I understand a little bit having watched Alexander-Arnold defend, but in games where we’ve lacked creativity and not created chances. Alexander-Arnold should be in there.”
‘Let’s keep things in perspective – England are still top of the group’
Sky Sports’ Kaveh Solhekol at the Al Bayt Stadium:
“It’s not fair to say that Gareth Southgate doesn’t trust a non-industrious player. Phil Foden has played regularly for England in the past but I hear the criticism. I could hear it in the stadium as supporters were calling for Foden to come on.
“They were disappointed when Jordan Henderson came on for Jude Bellingham. They didn’t really understand why Southgate was bringing on a defensive midfielder in a game where they thought England should be trying to win in the latter stages.
“But Southgate is the England manager and he’s got them to the final of the Euros and the semi-finals of the World Cup. It’s a little bit harsh to be criticising him so much considering the position England are at this tournament.
“England lost three games in Russia ultimately. There have been bumps and poor performances along the way but let’s keep things in perspective – England are still top of the group.
“The boos would make you think that it was all doom and gloom around England, but it’s not. Tonight was just a reality check and England play like that regularly during this tournament, they won’t be the team who lift the trophy on December 18.”
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