By Martyn Herman
AL KHOR, Qatar (Reuters) -England suffered a sobering reality check as they were outplayed for long periods by a youthful United States side in a tense 0-0 draw in their 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 were fortunate not to suffer a repeat of their 1950 World Cup calamity against the Americans.
They will still qualify for the last 16 if they avoid a heavy defeat by Wales in their final group game, but they were greeted with boos at the final whistle and will need a vast improvement if they are to have a deep run.
The U.S. produced a high-tempo display but may live to rue not putting away an England side stuck in second gear, although they will reach the last 16 for fifth time since 1994 if they beat Iran.
“A draw’s not the worst thing but I felt for stretches of the game we showed dominance,” Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, one of five England-based players in the U.S starting line-up, said.
He struck the crossbar in a first half his team dominated while the outstanding Weston McKennie tormented England and spurned a glorious first-half chance.
England captain Harry Kane sent a late header wide that would have given England a first World Cup win over the U.S. at the third attempt but it would have been a travesty.
While the result, and performance, was desperately disappointing, England top the group on four points and remain in the box seat to reach the last 16.
Iran, who snatched a late win over Wales, have three points with the U.S. on two points and Wales on one. All possibilities are still open in the group next Tuesday.
“Wasn’t the best performance for sure,” Kane, who remains two behind Wayne Rooney’s England record 53 goals, said.
“Good spells with the ball, but we didn’t quite have the final product. A draw isn’t bad for us. We were playing a tough team and we move on.”
For the first time in 54 games England manager Southgate named an unchanged starting line-up but they were unrecognisable to the free-flowing side that demolished Iran.
They lacked zip and the sight of teenaged midfielder Jude Bellingham, who earned rave reviews against Iran, making no impact and being replaced by veteran Jordan Henderson in the second half just about summed it up.
A day after Thanksgiving there was a carnival atmosphere in tent-like Al Bayt Stadium before kickoff.
The Americans took a while to settle and were fortunate when Kane’s shot from Bukayo Saka’s cross was blocked by Walker Zimmerman and flew just wide.
After that a nimble and smart U.S. side took charge.
Haji Wright, the only change to Gregg Berhalter’s line-up from the opening draw with Wales, headed wide and England had a huge let-off when 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 their 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 for inspiration and brought on Henderson and the mercurial Jack Grealish but to little effect as the game fizzled out into England’s 12th goalless draws at the World Cup, the most of any nation in the history of the tournament.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)