KHOR, Qatar — Some seven months ago, when the World Cup draw dropped the United States and England into the same group, the countdown to Friday’s clash at tent-inspired Al Bayt Stadium commenced. The young Americans had made headway in their rebuilding efforts, but with this delicious matchup, they could measure their progress and engage with global soccer nobility.
They were undaunted by the luminous opponent and created two delightful opportunities before halftime. They were disciplined and mature, never veering from the plan hatched by Coach Gregg Berhalter. They silenced a team that scored six times in its opener.
Though the match ended in a 0-0 draw, the United States relished its performance and liked its chances of advancing out of a wildly unsettled Group B. Entering the final set of matches Tuesday, the Americans (0-0-2, two points) must defeat Iran (1-1-0, three points) to secure one of two berths in the round of 16. England (1-0-1, four points) will face Wales (0-1-1, one point) in the other game.
“I’m pleased with the performance of the group and, most importantly, the belief of the group because that never wavered,” Berhalter said. “And what I saw in pregame was a team that was extremely focused on getting a result. In the end, it sets up our first knockout game of the World Cup. We win or we’re out of the World Cup.”
Midfielder Weston McKennie said, “The most important thing is that we control the outcome of our journey in this tournament.”
The Americans grew into the match and made things difficult for the Three Lions, who carry high hopes of winning their first World Cup trophy since 1966. “We went toe to toe with them,” forward Christian Pulisic said.
The United States created the better scoring opportunities and, dare anyone say, was superior to a team that finished fourth at the 2018 World Cup and second at the 2020 European Championship (played in 2021).
“There’s a lot of people that obviously thought we were going to get blown out,” McKennie said. “There’s a lot of people in the outside world who thought we were obvious underdogs, but for us, we didn’t feel like an underdog at all.”
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The United States is 2-8-2 all time against England, with the previous victory coming 29 years ago, but in three World Cup meetings, it’s unbeaten (1-0-2). In this clash, there was no telling the blue bloods from the upstarts, the team stacked with expensive international stars from the international novices.
“This team has come a very long way, and we should be proud of the performance,” Pulisic said. “Most of all, it should spark confidence and it should give us a great feeling going into this last match that’s a must-win for us.”
England set the tone, but it wasn’t long before U.S. spells of optimism gave way to sustained possession and two glorious opportunities.
Unmarked nine yards from the target, McKennie missed badly. He grabbed his wedge of red-white-and-blue dyed hair in frustration, knowing such chances would probably be rare.
Seven minutes later, Pulisic worked himself into a pocket of space just inside the penalty area and targeted the top near corner. His left-footed 16-yarder beat goalkeeper Jordan Pickford but crashed off the crossbar.
English fans grew restless. Mocking them, U.S. supporters chanted, “It’s called soccer!”
While they controlled large swaths of the match, the Americans continue to have trouble scoring. They did not score in either of the final two tuneups in September and notched just one goal in the first half of the 1-1 draw against Wales on Monday.
“We were happy with the positions we got into, and we had some close opportunities,” Berhalter said.
The defense compensated, though, with an immaculate performance against world-class striker Harry Kane and his strong supporting cast. England never seemed comfortable in possession and labored to find solutions to a well-structured U.S. defense.
The only goal conceded by the U.S. team in the first two matches came on Gareth Bale’s late penalty kick for Wales. Friday marked the first time the United States has blanked a European World Cup opponent since its historic upset of England in 1950.
England did manage quality chances late in each half. Matt Turner made a diving save to push aside Mason Mount’s bid just before intermission and Kane won an aerial duel on Luke Shaw’s free kick but drove his eight-yard header wide.
For the most part, the Three Lions labored to unlock a U.S. resistance that offered an unexpected look: While the team maintained three forwards when it had the ball, Pulisic dropped into the midfield from the front line when England took possession.
Center backs Walker Zimmerman and Tim Ream did not crack. Inspiration was provided by captain Tyler Adams, who, from his defensive midfield slot, won loose ball after loose ball and executed a superb tackle in the penalty area to prevent trouble.
The Three Lions tried picking up the pace late in the match, but the Americans weren’t fazed.
Liking the way things were going, Berhalter did not make his first move until about 15 minutes remained. Carrying yellow cards from the Wales match, McKennie and Sergiño Dest exited, avoiding an additional caution that would have resulted in suspension from the Iran game.
Gio Reyna, the 20-year-old sensation, made his long-awaited World Cup debut in the 83rd minute, but the Americans were out of chances. Though they didn’t score and didn’t win, they did continue gaining respect from the soccer world after missing the 2018 World Cup. Gains were made both with their large army of fans here and the general public back home.
“I talked before the World Cup about how seriously the team is taking this responsibility to gain momentum in the sport in America, and good performances will do that,” Berhalter said. “We want to capture the public’s attention. We want to perform at a high level. We want to give them something to be proud of. And nights like tonight help, but there has to be more to come.”
World Cup in Qatar
World champions: Argentina has won the World Cup, defeating France in penalty kicks in a thrilling final in Lusail, Qatar, for its first world championship since 1986. Argentina was led by global soccer star Lionel Messi in what is expected to be his final World Cup appearance. France was bidding to become the first repeat champion since Brazil won consecutive trophies in 1958 and 1962.
Today’s WorldView: In the minds of many critics, especially in the West, Qatar’s World Cup will always be a tournament shrouded in controversy. But Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, wants people to take another view.
Perspective: “America is not a men’s soccer laughingstock right now. It’s onto something, and it’s more attuned to what’s working for the rest of the world rather than stubbornly forcing an American sports culture — without the benefit of best-of-the-best talent — into international competition.” Read Jerry Brewer on the U.S. men’s national team’s future.