London (AP) — Maybe Neymar is saving himself for the World Cup.
For now, since becoming soccer’s most expensive player, finding the net is proving challenging for Neymar in a Brazil jersey. Even when coming up against an inexperienced defender in Joe Gomez who was making his first England start.
Not that the forward, who cost Paris Saint-Germain 222 million euros ($260 million in August), was too dispirited. Instead, he hopes the challenge posed by a resilient England serves Brazil well as they prepares for the World Cup.
“We faced difficulties, but that is good for us,” Neymar said. “Most of our games will be like today. It was a match of overlapping, quick passes, moving around.”
But with little created to trouble Joe Hart in the England goal. The hosts, too, were sterile going forward with striker Harry Kane sidelined through injury.
“I like the way we played. We did not give them any chances,” Neymar said. “It was a match with high ball possession and we knew we were playing a team that would be more defensive than the others.”
In his first European test as Brazil coach, Tite was surprised at the English defensive discipline and mental strength.
“They were like ice,” Tite said. “They were really cold and never lost their minds.”
England had also stayed cool on Friday against another of the world’s leading teams when Germany were held to a scoreless draw in north London.
“They won’t face a more difficult test than in the last two matches,” England coach Gareth Southgate said. “I’m probably more proud tonight because we played the best team in the world with a full team out. We’ve come out with a really creditable result.”
In a friendly of few chances in front of 84,595 fans, the closest England and Brazil came to breaking the deadlock came in the final 15 minutes.
A long-range strike from Fernandinho shaved the post and Neymar fed Paulinho, who was denied at the near post by England goalkeeper Joe Hart.
“We were playing the best team in the world at the moment. I thought they were brilliant,” Hart said. “They made it really hard for us and we had to adapt on the pitch … the defensive backline were absolutely phenomenal.”
Dominic Solanke could have won it for England on his international debut in the closing minutes, but he failed to control Ashley Young’s cross, enabling goalkeeper Ramses Becker to gather the ball.
“Tonight we looked anxious with the ball,” Southgate said, “and I think that is a consequence of the threat from Brazil.”
Brazil, though, have only conceded 5 goals in their last 17 games and scored 38 times. Neymar’s only goal in the games since September came in a 3-1 victory over Japan on Friday before traveling to London.
“Against Japan we tested ourselves against a more mobile and skilled team, against England we tested ourselves against a team of strong and tall players, very solid,” said Tite, who was hired in June 2016. “This will help in preparations.”
England and Brazil will be traveling to the World Cup next year trying to erase painful memories of the 2014 tournament. For Brazil, there was the humiliating 7-1 exit to Germany in the semifinals on home soil. England didn’t even make it out of the group stage.
But at least both sides have qualified for Russia next year, unlike four-time champions Italy.
“History and T-shirts are not enough to take you to a World Cup,” Tite said of Italy’s failure to advance from the playoffs on Monday.