Young England are building bridges – Southgate

Gareth Southgate

LONDON: England manager Gareth Southgate hopes his young team have started to win back supporters following successive 0-0 draws against heavyweights Germany and Brazil.

England endured a torrid 2016, humiliated by Iceland at the European Championship before new manager Sam Allardyce was brought down by a newspaper sting, hastening Southgate’s appointment.

But having qualified for next year’s World Cup, they made light of a glut of absentees to hold Brazil and Germany — the world’s two top-ranked teams — to goalless draws in their last two games of 2017.

“We’re building and Brazil are pretty close to the finished article. They’re a settled team, an outstanding team,” Southgate told reporters after Tuesday’s stalemate with Brazil at Wembley.

“We’re at a different point on our journey, but we will take huge belief from what we’ve done.

“I think and hope the English public have seen that these boys have given absolutely everything and have played with pride and passion.

“I hope there’s a little bit more of a connection between the supporters and the team.”

While Brazil’s attack bristled with star quality, England’s defence was striking in its relative callowness.

But Liverpool’s Joe Gomez shone on his full debut, earning the man-of-the-match award for successfully shackling Neymar, and Leicester City’s Harry Maguire, making only his third appearance, grew into the game impressively.

Southgate praised Gomez, 20, for his “calmness” and hailed John Stones for a “really mature” performance at the heart of such an inexperienced three-man back line.

“We can look at areas that we need to improve, but we’ve found so many positives in terms of players who’ve performed at this level for the first time, the likes of Maguire,” Southgate said.

“It’s not going to get much tougher than it was for them tonight. They will gain huge confidence and as a group it’ll stand them in really good stead moving forward.”

– England ‘like ice’ –

Southgate offered reassuring news on 21-year-old midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who was forced off in the 34th minute, four days after his encouraging international debut in the 0-0 draw with Germany.

“It’s a problem with his back which he’s had periodically,” said the England manager, who gave Liverpool forward Dominic Solanke, 20, his debut as a late substitute.

“I don’t expect it to be a problem.”

Brazil coach Tite said playing against England, who sat deep with their wing-backs at the same level as their three centre-backs, would prove a valuable lesson for his team.

“Today we learnt something tactical about playing against a five-man defence,” he said.

“That’s why we had to be so strong. They were counting on us to lose our minds and give them opportunities on the counter-attack.

“They were like ice –- they were really cold and never lost their minds. We had to play to the side and try to find space.

“We didn’t lose our minds, so it was a good test. It’s good for the second part of our preparation for the World Cup.”

With Neymar pulling the strings from the left, Brazil dominated possession, but came no closer to scoring than a late effort from substitute Fernandinho that skimmed Joe Hart’s right-hand post.

In light of his side’s struggles to break down England, Tite said he would consider withdrawing Philippe Coutinho into midfield and starting with Willian in attack, the Chelsea winger having come on from the bench.

“If you have Coutinho in perfect condition, 100 percent fit, we could try to use him in the middle and Willian as a winger,” said Tite.

“Right now Coutinho is playing like this for Liverpool. If he was in a normal position, we could try this.”