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England show composure and grace in friendly vs. Brazil; will it carry over?

A bore draw? While it is true that the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for the 65th-minute paper aeroplane that floated serenely towards the back of Brazil goalkeeper Allison's head, to dismiss this game as a snorefest would be churlish. There were positives here, a growing sense of composure and a refusal to be rattled by one of the top international sides in the world.

Manager Gareth Southgate spoke afterwards about the disconnect between the England team and their supporters and his hopes to make amends by producing a team to respect.

"These boys have given everything," he said. "They've played with pride and they've played with passion."

Brazil gave plenty too and were unquestionably the better side. In a manner quite out of keeping with many international friendlies, they took the game seriously, continuing to mount attacks long after the raft of second-half substitutions that often signal the end of the game as a contest.

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Manager Tite, who has restored confidence, belief and goals to his national side, faced a lengthy inquisition from Brazilian reporters. That seemed a little unfair, all things considered. It was hard to see what more he could have done to deliver victory.

"One team was high pressure, high line, trying to play with possession of the ball," he said through an interpreter. "The other team was more defensive, more compact and trying to reach one goal to win the match. They were awaiting our mistake and a counter attack. In matches like this, we'll have less opportunities."

Neymar, deployed for the full 90 minutes, seemed on a mission to damage the floodlights in the first half, but his compatriots slowly closed in on the target, drawing good saves from a pleasingly confident Joe Hart and rattling the post through Fernandinho.

But this was not a desperate rearguard action from England. For much of the game, they held the Brazilians at bay, an inexperienced back three diligently covering space, winning headers and playing their way out of trouble. This, after a similarly encouraging display against Germany last week, is enough to signify progress for Southgate.

Joe Gomez and the rest of the England defence kept the Brazil attack off-balance throughout Tuesday's friendly.

Joe Gomez, making his first start for England, was awarded the man of the match award, but in truth it could have gone to any of the three defenders. Harry Maguire was excellent, particularly late in the second half when he opened up the Brazilian defence by pushing up and curling a fine pass inside the touchline.

John Stones, so frequently maligned as he developed in the spotlight as steadily as a newborn giraffe, is showing clear signs of improvement after over a year under the aegis of Pep Guardiola. And Gomez, who has fought his way back from serious injury and who has yet to find a regular position in the Liverpool defence, was just as indomitable as his teammates.

"I thought they were all excellent," Southgate said afterwards. "Joe was given man of the match and rightly so; he's decision making, we know his athleticism is an asset, but there was his calmness in the face of dealing with high-quality movement and high-quality through passes that he had to read.

"I think Stones in the two games has really shown his defensive attributes. He looked really mature, he controlled the line, he's taken pride in his defending as well as being good in possession. And Harry has been a real plus. He started anxiously, but his use of his the ball was good, he grew into the game. They've come through with two clean sheets, the system has worked well, collectively they have done well."

There is only so much that can ever be read into performances in friendlies, but England's insistence on taking a moment, taking a touch, dropping a shoulder and evading tormentors was a positive development. They couldn't always get out, and Southgate pinpointed their failure to play the quick passes that might beat the press, but they didn't panic. There have been too many England teams in the past that have evaded tormentors by simply blatting the ball upfield to temporary safety.

England, it is fair to say, will be the top tip of very few people next summer. Brazil, renewed and vibrant under the management of Tite, will lead the pack, with Germany right alongside them. Yet England have held both at bay, albeit in the less stressful conditions of international friendlies.

If this resilience is something that can be transferred from a sedate night at Wembley to a bright day in Russia, then England can at least hope not to exit the tournament with their tails between their legs. But we've been here before. We've seen positivity before. England have qualified for tournaments with comfort before. Until this summer, no firm judgement can be made.

Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.

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