England 0 – Brazil 0
England stifled superior opponents for the second time in under a week as Brazil followed Germany in settling for a Wembley stalemate.
Gareth Southgate’s long-term mission is to win hearts and minds, if not World Cups, with his fresh-faced Three Lions.
And if two 0-0 draws in five days represents a slow start then it might easily have been worse given the calibre of the opposition.
Brazil arrived at full strength and with a formidable run of form behind them. But while they dominated possession, their vaunted front three of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus laboured without reward.
Liverpool’s Dominic Solanke had a late chance to end England’s 2017 calendar with a stunning debut winner, and it was also a night on which the likes of Joe Hart, Joe Gomez and Kyle Walker earned plenty of credit for keeping a clean sheet under pressure.
Gomez was named man of the match for his composed performance at the back, the third rookie in as many games after Harry Winks and Ruben Loftus-Cheek to elbow his way into Southgate’s plans for Russia 2018.
Brazil dominated the ball throughout the first half, rolling it across the field and probing for gaps without ever fully asserting themselves on England.
Neymar’s first half-dozen touches whipped the crowd into a fervour but the electricity waned a little as it became apparent each contribution would not be a magical one.
Brazil’s Neymar (left) and England’s Eric Dier. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire
There were flashes of brilliance from the world’s most expensive player, nutmegging Jake Livermore almost as an after-thought and piercing the defence with an outside-of-the-boot chip that lost none of its charm when its recipient, Jesus, was flagged offside.
But there were also a couple of wayward punts into the stand and an occasional wander into dead ends.
Walker and Gomez were charged with keeping the Paris St Germain star in check, a job made all the harder by Marcelo’s constant menace on the left.
England were forced deep for the most part but invited pressure with their admirable insistence on playing from the back. Southgate has counselled them to do so but there were times when an old-fashioned long ball might have bought some much-needed territory.
Loftus-Cheek was attempting to double down on his name-making debut against Germany but lasted little more than half an hour after an early knock left him compromised. That was a frustrating way for his memorable international getaway to end, but Crystal Palace’s loan recruit from Chelsea has left a strong enough impression to be seen again in March.
Neither goalkeeper was over-worked, Hart keeping out a Jesus header and Alisson fully behind a Marcus Rashford drive. England’s best counter-attack failed even to yield a shot, Jamie Vardy heading Ryan Bertrand’s cross back towards Rashford, who could not quite find a shooting angle and ended up shepherding the ball back into midfield.
Brazil nudged the accelerator at the start of the second half, Neymar and Jesus carving a chance for Coutinho, whose swept shot was closed down well by Hart.
Jesus was at it again soon after, gifting Coutinho an opening which the Liverpool man treated with uncharacteristic clumsiness.
Rashford remained England’s likeliest game-changer, cutely dribbling past Miranda before being roadblocked by Casemiro.
As the game entered its final 15 minutes a winner suddenly appeared imminent. First Fernandinho burst forward from midfield and sent a searing drive just wide, then Dier bent an inviting free-kick around wall and post.
Chelsea’s Willian made his presence felt from the bench and had just pulled the trigger when Ashley Young – on for his first cap in over four years – hurled himself in the line of fire.
Hart made an equally important stop in the 84th minute, standing tall at his near post and taking Paulinho’s hard-hit effort in the chest.
With seconds remaining, the prospect of a home win fleetingly reared its head. Young bent a teasing cross to the far post and when the ball broke to substitute Solanke he could not quite muster a finish from close range.
Alisson thrust himself at the striker’s feet to ensure he could not recover the situation but that would have been a reward too far for a team who have at least proved their mettle in the run-up to next year’s big test.