England moved to the brink of qualification from Group B after a drab goalless draw against the United States at the Al Bayt Stadium.
Avoiding a 4-0 defeat to Wales in the final game of the group will see the Three Lions advance to the last 16, but Gareth Southgate will be concerned by a lack of fluency in attack.
England almost broke the deadlock after 10 minutes, shifting the ball quickly down the right before Bukayo Saka’s cutback found Harry Kane 10 yards out, but Walker Zimmerman’s bravely blocked the powerful strike.
But the United States soon gave Gareth Southgate’s side a fright. First through Weston McKennie, who drifted off Declan Rice and found himself unmarked 10 yards from goal, only to blaze over.
Another warning for England came came after half an hour, this time through Christian Pulisic, evidently relishing the added responsibility away from Chelsea, who shifted the ball away from Kieran Trippier and lashed a shot onto the woodwork with Jordan Pickford desperately diving.
As the game fizzled out, Kane had one final chance, failing to control a header on target from Luke Shaw’s delightful delivery as the points were shared.
Here are five things we learned from the Al Bayt Stadium:
Harry Maguire confidence surges
Harry Maguire has been much maligned throughout a torrid season for Manchester United, but the centre-back’s resurgence under Gareth Southgate continued here.
Reinvigorated wearing the Three Lions, Maguire is thriving as a weapon at set-pieces again; not only as a force in the air either. There was some intricate footwork at a breakdown, which created havoc inside the USA box as England recycled possession from a corner.
Maguire has rekindled his influence in possession too, thriving with time on the ball and sending a delicious long ball onto the boot of Raheem Sterling in the first half.
And while Maguire has often been defensively vulnerable at United, he cut a calmer figure once more for England tonight. Exposed by Luke Shaw, Sergiño Dest propelled himself towards goal, only for the 29-year-old defender to retreat and block an effort without much fuss. The typical magnetic field surrounding his head was on display as the United States enjoyed spells of genuine pressure, which bodes well for England when stronger tests arrive.
Christian Pulisic relishing added responsibility away from Chelsea
Captain America continues to relish the added responsibility away from Chelsea.
There is an aura around Pulisic in the Stars and Stripes and added clarity when in possession. The quick shift and strike after a snappy backlift saw the ball crash off the woodwork in the first half. And Pulisic appears eager to influence the game on the international stage, rather than let it come to him. The 24-year-old is an able runner into the box and a surprise threat in the air, further outlining the untapped potential in blue.
England lacking snap to passing game
The United States were comfortable throughout most of the first half, but England lacked urgency and an alertness in possession.
Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham were sacrificed after 68 minutes, but in truth others may have considered themselves fortunate to stay on the pitch, including Mason Mount.
Seldom willing or able to move the ball quickly, the USA were comfortable, yet quickly unravelled in the rare moments when the tempo surged. Barely 10 minutes into the contest, Bellingham combined nicely with Kieran Trippier and Bukayo Saka to slalom into the penalty area. The ball looked destined for the back of the net after a cutback to Harry Kane, only for Walker Zimmerman’s fine block.
There was little adventure to England’s play there after, with Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford’s introduction failing to shake things up. If Southgate is determined to be reactive, it may not overly concern him, but when opportunities arise, England must show more intent on the ball.
Tyler Adams bosses midfield to enhance reputation on football’s biggest stage
Tactically disciplined for the majority of the game with two banks tightly positioned and then three forwards handed license to roam, Tyler Adams enabled Gregg Berhalter’s system to thrive, enjoying the game in front of him for the most part.
But even during sloppy moments, such as when Pulisic coughed up possession in the second half, leaving Antonee Robinson isolated after venturing forward, Adams was there. A lung-busting run over half the length of the pitch extinguished a bright spark as Saka broke into the box.
As the USA grew into the game, Adams even flourished in possession, recycling the ball and showing tenacity to outmuscle the likes of Mason Mount as England attempted to move up the pitch. A stellar performance from the captain, leading by example.
Kyle Walker set to walk back into starting line-up
Kyle Walker may be relieved just to be in Qatar after an unlikely recovery from groin surgery, but Gareth Southgate must surely recall the Manchester City defender to face Wales.
Back three or five, in place of Kieran Trippier or Luke Shaw, with the Newcastle full-back switching flanks, those are decisions to ponder before next Tuesday’s final group game against Wales.
But Walker will bring much-needed drive and penetration in possession, not to mention a more daring approach with the ball, with others comfortable to take risks knowing the 32-year-old’s outstanding ability to recover.
Walker will stretch the pitch too and would surely have joined Saka more often than Trippier managed against the United States. His return should hand England a much-needed boost.