Costa Rica vs England: Hangover really kicks in as party moves on

England were still wearing the hangover of another tournament exit in Belo Horizonte

The Mineirao Stadium

This dead rubber could not erase what has gone before. The personnel may have changed but England were still wearing the hangover of another tournament exit. They drifted into a summer of recrimination, barely leaving a mark on Brazil.

The locals are not exactly sad to see them go. “Eliminated, eliminated” they chanted at the England supporters making the best of a bad situation in Belo Horizonte.

Before the tournament, this was earmarked as a match in which England would target an important victory over a Costa Rica side with nothing to play for. Indeed, Los Ticos did struggle for motivation because their fate had already been decided but in the best possible sense, with Group D qualification assured.

With England’s bags already checked in for their flight back to Luton, this was a curious affair. In contrast to the penalty woe of Euro 2012, the battering in Bloemfontein or the galling game in Gelsenkirchen eight years ago, England went out with a whimper here.

This wonderfully enthralling tournament has no time for passengers. It felt like the party had moved on. Typically, England’s fans largely retained their humour.

One banner read: “Flights to Rio: £1,200. Enjoying the ambience: £2,000. Accommodation: £2,000. Arriving after elimination: priceless.”

An England fan displayed this comical banner during their final group game against Costa Rica An England fan displayed this comical banner during their final group game against Costa Rica  

Some of the crowd showed greater interest in tossing a beach ball around than  anything a sterile first half generated.

England fans mustered a degree of defiance early on, raising a chorus of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” moments before Daniel Sturridge collected Jack Wilshere’s 11th-minute pass and drifted a shot just wide.

Celso Borges struck a free-kick which required a fine save from Ben Foster. Sturridge had a reasonable penalty shout when eased off the ball by Oscar Duarte. Ross Barkley then jinked across the edge of the box and screwed a shot wide.

This had been billed as a chance for England’s young players to end a disappointing campaign by planting a seed of hope for the future, a scintilla of optimism for Euro 2016.

If this was in one sense the first game on a new path, it had the feel of a pre-season friendly. It also provided another exhibition of several England shortcomings exposed by Italy and Uruguay. It will not take many more games like this for critics to start questioning whether Sturridge is clinical enough in front of goal at this level.

The Liverpool striker has a refreshing willingness to take risks on the ball and at 24, he can improve with experience, but little he tried came off here and it is a fine line between creativity and wastefulness.

England’s startling inability to defend goal-kicks reared itself again, too.  Shortly before half-time, goalkeeper Keylor Navas launched a routine ball upfield and, without any intervention from anyone else, Michael Umana was bearing down on Foster. The defender lacked Luis Suarez’s ruthlessness and cut inside on to his right foot, allowing England’s rearguard to regroup and clear. There was a similar nervousness in defence, the same agricultural clearances when Costa Rica chose to attack with any real purpose.

 

But their minds were on the last 16. England’s were looking to the future. And as Sturridge continued to miss chances in the second half – this time a left-foot curled effort after another cute Wilshere pass – it was hard not to baulk at the amount of work England have to do to become a credible force at Euro 2016.

Many raw components are there. In Manaus, England played with a rare attacking cohesion; incidentally, does it say anything about their concentration on warm-weather preparations that England’s best performance came in the humidity of the Amazon jungle as opposed to the cooler climes of Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte?

That was rarely replicated here. But, if England were a little disjointed and lacking in understanding, is that not understandable given the nine changes Roy Hodgson made from the Uruguay game?

Ultimately, with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard ending this match in midfield, this at times felt like a thank you to the past rather than a signpost to the way ahead.

The pressure on Hodgson will intensify as England finish this campaign with two goals and one point from three matches. A starting line-up with an average age of 25.4 is proof he is already looking ahead. It just would have been nice to sign off with more of a statement than this.

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