Gareth Southgate was full of praise for Joe Gomez, John Stones and Harry Maguire after they helped England hold Brazil to a goalless draw at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday evening.
The youthful back three had their work cut out against a dominant Brazil side led by Neymar and Gabriel Jesus, but they dealt with everything thrown at them as England claimed what Southgate described as a “very credible” result.
Southgate was particularly pleased for Liverpool youngster Gomez, who was a surprise inclusion ahead of the experienced Gary Cahill after coming off the bench for his debut against Germany on Friday.
“I thought they were all excellent,” said Southgate. “Joe has been given the man-of-the-match award and rightly so.
“We know his athleticism is a real asset, but there was also his decision-making and his calmness in the face of high quality movement and high-quality through passes that he had to read.”
On Stones, who played in the middle of the trio, he added: “In the two games, I think John Stones has really shown his defensive attributes.
“He’s looked really mature, controlled the line and taken pride in his defending as well as being calm in possession. I think that’s a significant step for him.”
Leicester defender Maguire, meanwhile, was making only his third appearance for Southgate’s side. “Harry has also been a real plus,” added the England coach. “He started a little anxiously today but he grew in confidence and grew into the game.
“They are not going to face more difficult tests than they have had in the two matches we have had, and they have come through them with two clean sheets.
“The system has worked well. Collectively we have worked well. They had control of the game tonight and they were the most dangerous team, no doubt about that, but we have limited both teams to very few clear-cut chances.
“There’s lots for us to improve with the ball but for me there are really positive signs. We could put young players in and go and get beaten by four and you then question the decision, but they have really stepped up in the two matches.
“The learning will have been enormous but they can also take a huge amount from both occasions.”
Southgate was also impressed by goalkeeper Joe Hart, who made a string of important saves on his return to the international side.
“Today was important for Joe,” he said. “He had to perform under some pressure because of the way Jordan Pickford had performed and he did that.
“He knows there’s competition for places with three or four other goalkeepers and it’s now down to what they do with their clubs over the next few months.”