Gareth Southgate expressed pride in England’s young defence as his side drew 0-0 with Brazil in a friendly on Tuesday, four days after a similar stalemate against world champions Germany.
Even more satisfying for manager Southgate was the fact that injuries and withdrawals meant he was without several first-choice players for the double-header against the nations standing first and second in FIFA’s world rankings.
On Tuesday he fielded a three-man defence with Manchester City’s 23-year-old John Stones flanked by Liverpool’s 20-year-old Joe Gomez, given a first start after a substitute appearance against Germany, and Leicester City’s Harry Maguire, 24.
Brazil’s attacking options included Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho, yet the visitors were kept safely at arm’s length.
England offered far less going forward than they did against Germany — which was not surprising as they struggled to get a kick at times — but Brazil never carved them open and were restricted to some late chances at Wembley.
“I’m more proud tonight than I was against Germany,” Southgate told reporters after England kept a clean sheet against Brazil for the first time in their last 11 meetings.
“We have found so many positives because it won’t get much tougher than it was for them (England’s players) tonight. They will gain huge confidence from tonight.
“I thought they all did very well. We know about Joe’s (Gomez’s) athleticism but I thought his decision-making and calmness in the face of dealing with high quality movement was fantastic.
“John Stones showed the defensive attributes tonight. He was mature and controlled the line and was calm in possession.
“And Harry, he was a real plus. he started a little anxiously but he grew in confidence.”
England conceded only three goals in qualifying for next year’s World Cup but Germany and five-times world champions Brazil, who also easily qualified for the finals in Russia, were a major step up in the quality of opposition.
“We have come through with two clean sheets and the system has worked well,” Southgate said. “We limited both teams to very few clear-cut chances. When you put young players in you could get beaten by four and then you are questioning the decision.
“But they really stepped up in the two matches.”
Brazil had won 13 of the 16 matches they had played since Tite became coach but they found England a tough nut to crack.
“They were very tight at the back,” substitute Fernandinho, who came closest to scoring with a shot that glanced against the post, said. “It was hard making chances in the first half.
“They were very well set up and that made it difficult for us. Both teams were well prepared and we managed to create some chances in the second half, while they had practically none.”