Dubai: What a difference a few days can make. England thrashed Iran 6-2 in their opening match of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and confidence in Gareth Southgate’s team was at an all-time high.
But they then followed that scintillating display with a dire show against the USA in which they were fortunate to get a point.
Even though Southgate kept faith with the same 11 that did so well against Iran, it was like watching a totally different team. In fact the only thing recognizable about England from their first match was the kit that they were wearing.
Against Iran, England were on the front foot. They passed and moved the ball around at speed and with confidence. They looked threatening every time they ventured forward. They pressed the Iranian back five and forced them into making mistakes.
But that hunger and desire and passion that saw them overwhelm Iran was nowhere to be seen against the USA. Instead, what we got was a lacklustre effort and when the full time whistle blew it drew loud jeers from the English fans.
First of all, credit goes to the USA. They were by far the better team and played with a higher tempo and looked a threat with Christian Pulisic coming agonizingly close to breaking the deadlock when he saw his effort come back off the bar with Jordan Pickford beaten. Pulisic may have found his opportunities limited at Chelsea in the Premier League but he showed exactly why he is so highly rated as he single handedly tormented Harry Maguire and John Stones. He continued to trouble England’s defence with his intelligent running and control while at the back Leeds United’s Tyler Adams was another inspirational figure for the team.
I think Southgate got his team selection wrong for this one. First of all, he has a 26 man squad to choose from yet he stuck with the same 11 that beat Iran. As a result, England looked leggy and devoid of any spark and zip.
Jude Bellingham was unable to provide the drive that was a highlight of the Iran victory whilst Raheem Sterling hardly touched the ball.
Southgate ought to have freshened up the side what with so many other options available to him. He had Jack Grealish on the bench yet the attacker only got on late in the second half. Marcus Rashford was also only given a late cameo. Jordan Henderson could have started in midfield to give Declan Rice a rest.
Stroll in the park
These three should have been the first names on the team sheet, but Southgate stuck to his guns and was very lucky to get a 0-0 draw. In the 90 minutes England created perhaps two decent moments but other than that this was a stroll in the park for the USA who were unfortunate to draw their first match against Wales.
The point for England moves them on to four and they are almost certain to qualify for The Round of 16 but this was a jarring reality check.
They know they will need to play much better than this when the stakes are raised later in the tournament.