Costa Rica vs England: Five things we learnt from the final farewell for Hodgson’s side

 

The Mineirao Stadium

Central defenders have gone missing

All right, so maybe we already knew, but this match set it in the bleakest context. It does not feel like that long ago that in Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Sol Campbell, Jamie Carragher, even Jonathan Woodgate, England were embarrassed with riches at the back.

Against Costa Rica, Roy Hodgson all but rotated the entire squad, yet was nonetheless forced to play Gary Cahill again, alongside the uncertain Chris Smalling. The talent pool is not very talented and terrifyingly shallow.

Shape of things to come

All tournament (not exactly a long time) the argument has been over the order in which the three men behind Daniel Sturridge should line up. Wayne Rooney or Raheem Sterling in the centre, and which one out wide?

That shape, a 4-2-3-1, was something of a hark back to how the more successful teams played at World Cup 2010, where England found themselves behind the times with Fabio Capello’s obdurate 4-4-2. Is this final match a look at the future? A holding midfielder, two more attacking ones, and a front three? If it is, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have played the anchor role in this tournament. They won’t be playing it in another.

Uruguay’s coach, Oscar Tabarez, identified Gerrard’s ability to open up defences with precise passes from deep as England’s chief threat, and assigned Edinson Cavani to frustrate him. It worked. England’s bright young things are still a cause for optimism, but none are immediately obvious candidates for this role.

Shaw start

Sixty-seven matches for Southampton and it appears there is every chance that Southampton’s 18-year-old left-back is about to become the most expensive defender in footballing history, with a £34m move to Manchester United.

The man keeping him out of the England side for the moment has had a poor tournament indeed. Will he be first choice from now on? Out of position for one early attack, but showing touch and composure later, there is every reason to imagine Leighton Baines’s moment in the sun to have been brief indeed, and disappointing.

 

Barkley the best

The game’s finest player by some margin, and England’s form youngster in the Miami warm-ups too. Is it even worth wondering what might have been had Ross Barkley started against Italy and Uruguay? Confident on the ball, strong, powerful, marauding forward, on occasion like a more statuesque Paul Gascoigne, he was a breath of fresh air every time he took to the turf in Brazil. He hasn’t burst on to the scene with quite the luminescence of a Michael Owen, but then he wasn’t given the same opportunity. Surely England’s brightest light.

Wilshere going backwards

When a Formula One driver presses the accelerator and finds himself going nowhere, that’s when he ends up on the gravel, his race over. Jack Wilshere trundles on, a young man, 22, seemingly in an old man’s body. Where is the player – a month older than Neymar – previously spoken of as a “once in a generation” talent after he was man of the match as Arsenal beat Barcelona at the Emirates in 2011 but was so shy he asked Cesc Fabregas to get Lionel Messi’s shirt for him? After a lengthy lay-off, he remains a pale imitation of his former self. Will England ever get their Wilshere back?

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