England remind us why they are not huge favourites to win World Cup with tedious USA draw

You get peaks and troughs in tournament football but anyone supporting England at this World Cup will hope Friday’s night’s dire 0-0 draw with USA is not a sign of things to come for the rest of the tournament.

England's Harry Kane holds his head in his hands after a missed chance in the 0-0 draw with USA.
England's Harry Kane holds his head in his hands after a missed chance in the 0-0 draw with USA.

After a swashbuckling 6-2 win over Iran on Monday to take early control of Group B, hopes were raised that England may be a serious contender in Qatar. A win over the Americans would secure their place in the last 16 with a game to spare. As it is, they will need to be on their guard against Wales in their final match after this snoozefest of a football match. Missing out on qualification altogether is highly unlikely given England’s strong goal difference over the Welsh but finishing top of the standings is far from assured.

Their opponents here were the more enterprising team on a suffocating night at the Al Bayt Stadium. You’d have to be a real football fanatic to truly enjoy this match. England plodded along without ever carving the American backline open. The States at least played with vigour of a nation that really doesn’t want a winner-takes-all confrontation with old foes Iran, but that’s what is facing them.

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England actually started the game reasonably well. Harry Kane had an early opening, but his shot from a Bukayo Saka cutback was deflected wide by Tim Ream for a corner. But as the Americans grew into proceedings, they took control of the first half. They upped the tempo and playing with verve in the final third. England looked ponderous, their defence a little creaky. Christian Pulisic rattled the crossbar with a fierce shot. Tyler Adams, Yunus Musa and Weston McKennie were running the midfield. England manager Gareth Southgate looked pensive on the touchline.

England did finish the half with a Mason Mount effort from range that drew a decent save from Matt Turner in the US goal. However, this was an opening 45 minutes that reminded us of England’s frailties, a team that suffered relegation from the Nations League and were walloped by Hungary at home. Improvement was needed after the break.

It did not come. USA forced a flutter of corners. England looked listless and devoid of imagination. Fortunately for them, while the Americans were more dynamic and purposeful, they too lacked tangible quality in the final third. Pulisic was showing some clever touches but not enough to cause England lasting damage. A goalless draw was starting to become a real possibility, even if Gregg Berhalter’s men were pressing for an opener.

Such was McKennie’s iron grip on the midfield, Southgate turned to Jordan Henderson to give him some competition, the experienced Liverpool man replacing Jude Bellingham. The wonderkid and hero of the Iran win had been completely nullified by his opponents. Jack Grealish was also introduced to try and revive England’s forward line.

Southgate deserves credit for these changes as Henderson’s presence shored England up and Grealish was far more involved than Sterling. Yet what England were offering up was not adequate enough. The match meandered to its tedious and predictable conclusion: 0-0.

At least England did not lose. They were still booed at full time by a comatose crowd. This was a reminder that England are some way off the real favourites for this tournament.