There were times during the first half of Wales versus the USA in Al Rayyan on Monday night when this game did not look all that different to the earlier one between England and Iran.
The USA had their opposition pinned, every hopeful clearance from Robert Page’s side coming straight back without respite, as Wales took until the 44th minute to win a corner from their first meaningful attack.
The balance — or lack of it — was off in a game between what appeared to be two sides matched evenly in so many ways: young, tenacious teams with sprinklings of experience and star quality.
Wales’s upturn after the break made the contest a relatively even affair, but in the first half, in particular, there was plenty for England manager Gareth Southgate to take note of ahead of Friday night’s meeting against the USA.
Having put six past Iran, Southgate seems unlikely to deviate from the system that let England off the leash, but here was further reason for more of the same.
Wales set up with a back-three and found themselves overrun out wide, with the USA’s overloads forcing wing-backs Connor Roberts and Neco Williams deep into what was, effectively, a flat-five, while midfielders Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie popped up well in the half-spaces.
The ambitious Sergino Dest and Antonee Robinson bombed on beyond their wingers, with both Timothy Weah and Christian Pulisic given licence to float inside and, perhaps most troublingly for England, use their pace in behind.
The USA’s opener, with Pulisic coming in off the left to slide Weah clean through racing from the right, was a clear warning of how the USA might look to exploit England’s sluggishness at centre-back, whether it is Harry Maguire or Eric Dier that starts alongside John Stones.
Better news for Southgate was the USA’s lack of a central striking threat, and their inability to handle one, following Kieffer Moore’s half-time introduction. Norwich’s Josh Sargent led the line, but was quieted comfortably enough, save one header off the outside of the post in the chaos after Joe Rodon’s near own-goal.
Moore’s work dropping off the centre-backs sucked Tim Ream and Walker Zimmermann into areas where the former, in particular, would rather not go but will have to get used to if he is to lay a glove on Harry Kane.
It was a weakness that USA coach Gregg Berhalter acknowledged afterwards. “Wales were very direct in the second half, they’ve got a great team and they made it difficult,” he said. “I think we handled a lot of our pressure well, but when they hit long balls and play for second balls, it becomes difficult.”
Where the USA will not be found wanting is for motivation. “This is an easy one,” he added. “You’re getting to play England. I mean, that’s the recovery right there. There’s not going to be many tired players come Friday.”