England show 'heart, resilience, spirit' as praise for Joe Gomez rolls in
LONDON -- John Stones believes England can take heart from going toe-to-toe with FIFA's top two ranked sides, after Gareth Southgate's team followed last week's 0-0 draw with Germany by recording the same result against Brazil on Tuesday night.
England were on the back foot for much of the match against a side that featured Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho, but even though they won neither game and didn't manage a goal, the players were satisfied with their performances.
"We can take confidence from knowing we've competed against the top two teams in the world," said Stones.
"We came off the pitch really pleased because of the attacking threat they had. Obviously we've not scored but we were solid. It's a step in the right direction."
The performance was particularly impressive given the depleted nature of the squad. Several key men were absent, but that allowed youngsters like Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Joe Gomez, who excelled alongside Stones in a three-man defence that greatly limited the opportunities Brazil were able to create.
"It's been difficult for the manager with the injuries," said Stones. "Whoever gets out on the pitch has got to give the manager a problem, and the lads who've played in these two games have definitely done that.
"When you get a chance like tonight you've got to take it, and against Germany as well. It's healthy competition: the manager wants that problem. We want to make it difficult for him to pick a team."
Eric Dier captained England for the second game in a row, and while he was also pleased with the way the team defended, he believes there is still plenty of room for improvement, particularly given the tests they will face in next summer's World Cup in Russia.
"It was difficult," said the Tottenham midfielder. "We limited them to a very few clear chances, even though they controlled the game. In that sense it was a bit disappointing because we would have liked to do more with the ball and press high up the pitch.
"Every game we want to be the better team. We want to win. We're getting better in that sense. Germany was a massive improvement -- it was a 50-50 game. The ambition of everyone here is to keep improving and progressing.
"Brazil are probably the best national team I've faced, so it probably won't be like that in every game. Our mentality needs to be, in every game we play, to dominate and win."
Whether England will be able to compete with sides like Brazil at the World Cup remains to be seen, but Dier believes England are at least moving towards the standard required to make an impression in Russia.
"Brazil have players of extreme talent, and as a collective they're extremely strong so they've got both," he said. "We've got very talented individuals as well, even though the squad was severely depleted for this game.
"The young boys have come in and done well, like Joe Gomez today -- I thought he was brilliant. We have the individuals, and it's now about bringing it together as a team. We're definitely going in the right direction."
England boss Gareth Southgate agreed with Dier, saying his side proved they have the defensive mettle to challenge the best in the world after keeping Brazil's attacking brilliance at bay.
"The resilience collective and individually was absolutely outstanding," Southgate said.
"I was probably more proud tonight than I was against Germany because we played, I think, the best team in the world, with their full team out, and come out with a really creditable result.
"We can look at areas we could improve but we found so many positives in terms of players who've performed at this level for the first time.
"They're not going to face more difficult tests than they've had in the two matches we've just had. We had the best defensive record in Europe in qualifying and we've played the best two teams in the world and not conceded.
"In terms of heart, resilience and spirit it was up there with anything I have been involved in."
Southgate was happy to join in the chorus of praise for Gomez, who was one of several surprise call-ups for this double-header.
Having arrived a raw rookie, he returns to Liverpool with two caps, two clean sheets and a bright future.
"I thought they were all excellent but Joe was named man of the match and rightly so," Southgate said.
"I think his decision-making was outstanding. We know his athleticism is a real asset but to see his calmness in the face of such high-quality movement, dealing with through passes he had to read ... superb.
"Joe has been one of the best young players in our system for a long time. He has come back from an ACL injury and showed great character and tonight he's had a wonderful experience.
"It gives me plenty to think about."
Joe Hart, recalled after Jordan Pickford's fine debut last time out, played his part too.
He made a couple of good saves, not least when Paulinho escaped and lashed at the near post in the closing minutes.
But the goalkeeper, winning his 75th cap, was happy to push the spotlight towards Gomez.
"I can't speak highly enough of his performance, he was playing against one of the hottest players [Neymar] and he did well against him," Hart said.
"It's not a win but it's a good performance. We have played against the best two teams in the world. We didn't win, but we didn't lose."
Brazil boss Tite offered England a respectful nod for their tactical discipline.
He has seen his side routinely dominate sides since taking the reins from Dunga, qualifying from the tricky South American pool amid an avalanche of goals.
But this time he was unable to find a way through.
"They were like ice, really cold, they never lost their minds," Tite said.
"We have scored many goals this year but not today because England played really well, blocking our offence. They were trying to close out the space and they had a lot of mental power."
Information from PA Sport was used in this report.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.