The reason the Football Association chose Brazil and Belgium as the opponents for friendly matches during this international break was because they wanted England to be tested against the best ahead of this summer’s European Championship.

Gareth Southgate’s team had gone unbeaten during 2023 and qualification for the finals was relatively serene — drawing just two games, one of which was the final group game and practically a dead-rubber — and so, rightly, two fixtures against the fourth and fifth-ranked nations in the world felt appropriate preparation.

Perhaps Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Brazil was the reality check that England needed. A sold-out Wembley was rather flat and the glamour friendly did not really materialise into anything of substance — as friendlies tend not to — but it will serve a purpose, nonetheless.

A goalless draw might have been fair because neither side particularly set the Wembley arch alight. But 17-year-old Endrick had other ideas and just nine minutes after coming on for only his fourth appearance for the Selecao, the Palmeiras prodigy scored his first goal in yellow and blue.

In ending England’s 10-match unbeaten run, Brazil highlighted that it only takes a momentary lapse in concentration to be punished by the best teams. It is fair to say that Southgate’s team have not been tested against such opponents since the 2022 World Cup.

Similar will come on Tuesday when Belgium come to Wembley, and Southgate will hope for an improved performance from his players just as much as victory.

Getty: Chris Brunskill
Getty: Chris Brunskill

However, injuries are disrupting what should be a pivotal camp in terms of squad selection ahead of this summer’s tournament. The Belgium game represents the last viewing Southgate will get of his players before he chooses his 23-man squad, but countless options will be unavailable to him.

Harry Kane and Kyle Walker are joining Bukayo Saka in returning to their clubs due to injury. Out of these three, only Walker featured, for less than 30 minutes, against Brazil before being forced off. They are all key players in Southgate’s first-choice XI and without them experimentation is required.

Southgate is also checking on the fitness of Jordon Henderson and Cole Palmer and will be forced to rotate anyway given that asking players to feature for the full 90 minutes across two friendlies is too much given where we are in the season.

It is therefore unlikely that Phil Foden will start against Belgium. The Manchester City player is a certain to go to Germany with England but it is also fair to say that he has not flourished in an England shirt — and Saturday’s display was little different.

Foden looks a little lost with England

With Kane and Saka absent, Foden was the only first-choicer across the front line alongside Ollie Watkins and Anthony Gordon, however, he was lost out on the right side. Jude Bellingham, who was England’s best player on the day, occupies the No. 10 shirt, which is a possession Foden would like.

Foden prefers to play centrally but instead it appears must make do with a berth out wide, from where he can still do a very impressive job. Yet, that he continues to struggle to bring his club form to the national team should be a concern for Southgate and a priority of his to address.

There were no touches for Foden in the Brazil penalty area on Saturday and his 44 touches in the game as a whole were well down on his City season average of 72. Meanwhile, the 23-year-old managed just 23 passes which is below his club average of 47.4.

I think at moments we saw that [quality shown at City],” Southgate said. “We’ve several players missing, so some of the combinations are different, some of the interplay is different. I thought him and Jude at times in the first half combined well.

Getty: Eurasia Sport Images
Getty: Eurasia Sport Images

“But, again, he’s also playing against a high-level side. We’re not dominating 75 per cent of the ball, which at times is the case with his club. It’s a different sort of a challenge, but I wasn’t unhappy with Phil’s performance.

It is true that England do not dominate possession like City manage in the Premier League, and the style of play that Southgate deploys is different to that of Pep Guardiola. Nevertheless, a firing Foden could be a difference-maker for England in the latter stages of Euro 2024.

Since making his senior debut for the national team in September 2020, Foden has scored four goals across 32 appearances. This season, he has stepped up on that front for City, so far scoring 18, and having another contributor in front of goal to take the burden off Kane is needed for England.

Getting the best out of Foden when wearing the Three Lions and increasing his influence would go some way to taking England towards a more balanced attack.