Edgy England made to wait after uninspiring draw against the United States

Gareth Southgate’s side showed none of the verve they displayed in the opening win over Iran

All apologies, America. One for the purists. Harry Kane’s bullet header from Luke Shaw’s injury-time delivery almost cut into Gary Lineker’s England record of 10 World Cup goals. Kane miscued to stay on six.

And that’s all she wrote, folks.

Even the boos raining down from the nosebleeds at full-time were lacklustre as the 68,463 crowd began the trek back to Doha, already saturated. Two games inside five days takes a heavy toll on these humid nights, which made it strange to see England manager Gareth Southgate name the same starting XI that mauled Iran 6-2 last Monday.

Don Draper kept Lucky Strikes in profit long after the ‘cancer sticks’ moniker had stuck but the poetic Ad Man couldn’t sell this flop to his compatriots. A scoreless draw to send the floating US sports nut into the pantry for sugary sustenance.


The hour mark came and went at a snail’s pace as Fox Sports moguls in Midtown Manhattan thanked the dollar gods of Wall Street that it was still only 3pm on the east coast.

The loudest cheer in the desert came after 82 minutes when Timothy Weah’s father, the legendary Georgie Weah, appeared on the big screen. The former AC Milan striker, now 56, fills his days as president of Liberia.

Take a piece of Americana and use it, Bob Dylan would be quick to say. The west is the best, Jim Morrison would respond, on an occasion that demanded all the well-worn clichés got a run.

England and the USA, allies since 1785, came to a Bedouin tent for some soccer. The States have been hooked on round ball ever since they hosted the 1994 World Cup and considering the big circus wheels across the prairies in 2026, a respectable showing is expected in Qatar.

So far, it’s been swell.

Southgate’s innate conservatism contributed to the malaise. The decision to makes zero changes must be questioned as the front-five failed to rattle America’s fluid 4-3-3, which looked razor sharp on the counterattack.

England could have conceded four goals in the first half as Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie blazed over a whipped ball to his feet by Weah junior.

Looking unfussed in possession, England’s rigid movement, injected confidence into the Americans initially wary stride; McKennie’s spin and charge on 32 minutes allowed Yunus Musah to control and shift possession to their most valuable player, Christian Pulisic. Kieran Trippier was square on the Chelsea winger but Pulisic unleashed a left-foot effort that smashed off Jordan Pickford’s crossbar.

The jaded English trudged aimlessly on, prompting Walter Zimmerman to dunt Kane in mid-air, sending the skipper crashing to earth, where he landed on his hip.

He recovered but the urgency flowed one-way, with Arsenal reserve goalkeeper Matt Turner flinging the ball into open grass for Pulisic to chase, forcing John Stones to read the danger.

A hint of panic crept into English minds when Weah’s neat back heel put AC Milan full back Sergiño Dest mano-a-mano with Harry Maguire, but the rejuvenated Manchester United defender held the line. He has been a revelation, so far.

After Pulisic messed up a clean header approaching the break, England finally cut loose as Raheem Sterling and Shaw combined for Bukayo Saka to punch a shot high and wide before Mason Mount drew a save from Turner to bring the curtain down on a timid opening 45 minutes.

England play a distinct style under Southgate so when it runs into zonal cover, which is part of any American athletes’ DNA, the Mounts, Sterlings and Sakas look one-paced and ineffective.

The countdown clock was trained on Southgate throughout the second half; when would the polished gaffer appear from the dugout and tinker with the personnel? When cometh the light brigade of Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford as England relied upon Maguire and Stones’s aerial dominance to keep it scoreless?

Pulisic was living his best life down the left, winning corners, slow marching to take them, as Maguire repelled inswingers and outswingers from Hershey, Pennsylvania’s second most famous son (after Draper of course).

It took Southgate 68 minutes to wield the axe, Grealish appearing wide left for Sterling as Jordan Henderson relieved anonymous teenager Jude Bellingham. Neither man had the desired impact as the draw seemed preordained.

Saka, the baby-faced star against Iran, made way for Rashford and still the gallery sounded like they were stranded in a seventh innings stretch.

How to solve this problem in four years’ time? The North Americans might take a leaf out of the Qatari World Cup manual and change the rules so 2026 goes swimmingly. Nine aside? No backcourt? Timeouts?

We jest. A point apiece keeps Wales afloat in Group B despite losing 2-0 to Iran in a stunning affair earlier at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. To reach the last 16 Gareth Bale must summon the spectacular to beat England next Tuesday and pray that Iran draw with the US as two from the Netherlands, Ecuador and Senegal await.

The next game at Al Bayt is an instant classic as Germany and Spain come north on Sunday night.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent