England suffered a sobering reality check as it was outplayed for long periods by a youthful United States side in a tense 0-0 draw in its second World Cup Group B game on Friday.
A 6-2 thrashing of Iran on Monday sent fans’ hopes soaring but Gareth Southgate’s side was fortunate not to suffer a repeat of their 1950 World Cup calamity against the Americans.
Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic struck the crossbar for the U.S. and it failed to take a stack of first-half chances against an England team stuck in second gear.
England captain Harry Kane was restricted to half chances while the closest England came to scoring was a Mason Mount effort on the stroke of halftime.
While the result, and performance, was desperately disappointing, England tops the group on four points and remains in the box seat to reach the last 16.
The United States, who drew with Wales on Monday, have two points and will go into their last game against Iran knowing a win could take them into the last 16.
Iran is second on three points with Wales bottom on one point and all outcomes are still possible going into the final round of games when England takes on the Welsh.
For the first time in 54 games England manager Gareth Southgate named an unchanged starting line-up but before halftime it was unrecognisable to the side that put six goals past Iran in its opening match.
It did have the first chance as Kane’s goalbound shot was blocked by Walker Zimmerman and flew wide but after that it ceded control to the young American side featuring five players who ply their trade in England.
Haji Wright, the only change to Gregg Berhalter’s line-up from the draw with Wales, headed wide and England had a huge let-off when Weston McKennie half-volleyed over.
Juventus’s McKennie, sporting a red, white and blue hairdo, then instigated another move with a surging run before the ball was worked across to Pulisic who crashed an angled left-foot drive against the bar in the 33rd minute.
The chances kept flowing for a slick American side before halftime with Sergino Dest threatening after a weaving run and Pulisic scuffing a header wide.
England finally awoke from its slumber just before the break with Bukayo Saka scooping a shot over before U.S. keeper Matt Turner was forced into his first save of the match, pushing Mount’s drilled low shot around the post.
Southgate resisted the temptation to make changes at halftime but the pattern quickly resumed with Pulisic having a shot deflected wide and from the corner England defender Harry Maguire made a crucial intervention with Tim Ream lurking.
He finally turned to his bench and brought on experienced midfielder Jordan Henderson and the mercurial Jack Grealish but to little effect as the game fizzled out.