The FourFourTwo Preview: Costa Rica vs England
The predictable versus the shocking.
Even the most prophetic of cephalopod molluscs couldn't have foreseen a result as unexpected as the one pulled off by Costa Rica against Italy last week. Having gone into the group as dead certs for the wooden spoon, they've confounded the naysayers and punctured the egos of both Mario Balotelli's boys and Uruguay. A win here and they complete the hat-trick to finish the group stage as table leaders with a 100% record.
For England, this is as depressing an encounter as one could imagine. Out of Brazil 2014 with only two games played, manager Roy Hodgson will consider this tournament an unmitigated disaster.
This then, is a chance to bid farewell, not only to Brazil but to some of key personnel. Last international appearances will in all likelihood be given to names such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard; World Cup debuts to stalwarts-in-waiting such as Luke Shaw might also be forthcoming.
Sadly, this style of deployment was expected during the closing minutes of a second-round cakewalk, rather than a final, pointless group game. As with much of what's happened in this tournament, though, England have been surprised too quickly, too often.
What the local media say
"England, Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica: a trio of former world champion heavyweights and the little mob that gave us Paolo Wanchope. We thought Group D would be a three-team group. And so it turned out that way. We just never expected England to be the D-for-dead team, only eight days after the World Cup began." - Daily Mail.
"Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto said the sky’s the limit after the Central Americans claimed their second major scalp of the World Cup on Friday to secure their place in the last 16 for only the second time. Costa Rica, whose only previous last 16 appearance was in 1990, are ranked only 28th in the world, 19 places behind Italy and 21 places behind Uruguay. But less than a week after a 3-1 come-from-behind win over Uruguay, Pinto’s team added another touch of magic to their impressive campaign so far with a deserved 1-0 win over four-time champions Italy." - The Tico Times.
Key battle: Wayne Rooney v Giancarlo Gonzalez
The Manchester United striker has been unfairly pummelled in recent days, despite playing out of position against Italy and delivering a goal and an assist in two matches. When in doubt, hammer the most highly paid footballer on the pitch when there have been other, more upsetting deficiencies elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Costa Rica have looked organised in defence, despite conceding early doors to Uruguay; they also managed to withstand an occasionally-probing Italy attack in their second game. Gonzalez, who played at the heart of a five-man back-line, was the Italy game's top tackler, clearer and aerial-duel winner; he will need to be sharp again if Hodgson sticks to his revolving quartet up front, with Rooney as its central force.
Facts and figures
- This will be the first ever meeting between Costa Rica and England.
- England have not lost all 3 group games at a major tournament since Euro 88.
- Costa Rica have scored in all 7 of their previous World Cup meetings with teams from Europe.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Glory for Costa Rica, gory for England. 1-1.