England vs Costa Rica World Cup 2014: Roy Hodgson in need of victory to ease long journey back home
National mood will only darken should England lose to Costa Rica
The long retreat from Brazil begins tomorrow. The bags are packed. The Football Association has checked out of the Royal Tulip hotel on Sao Conrado beach. The team bus, with its superfluous exclamation mark– official Fifa slogan, “The dream of one team, the heartbeat of millions!!” – will make its final journey after the game against Costa Rica when it ferries the players to the airport at Belo Horizonte for their flight back to Luton airport.
The players will be well aware that a suitably solemn expression will be in order on disembarkation, and the mood aboard is likely to be reflective. They are out of the World Cup finals after the first round and many of them will know that will be held against them in some quarters for some time to come. They can, however, make life a lot easier for themselves tonight if they register one victory on the way to the departures hall.
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Costa Rica have already qualified, but that is unlikely to make any difference come 1pm local time today in Belo Horizonte. Their manager Jorge Luis Pinto was talking about sending home “the mother of football” with no points and who can blame him really? His team are on a roll; England are in a low. Costa Rica have never played a full international against England and they could have hardly have picked a better rime to make it their first.
Towards the end of his press conference at the stadium tonight, Roy Hodgson was asked what he would reflect on as the key lesson learned from this World Cup finals. Perhaps it was the terms in which the question was skilfully delivered by a television reporter, with a reference to Hodgson having his first cup of tea back in England, and all the memories of home and hearth that evoked, which accounted for a catch in his voice when he answered.
At times, he looked exhausted. When Frank Lampard departed the press conference early, in order to take part in the pre-training warm-up, he laid a reassuring hand on his manager’s shoulder as he passed and it was not hard to see how much Hodgson appreciated the gesture.
“I've learned how painful it is to build up your hopes,” Hodgson said, “to see a lot of good preparation proved to be to no avail because it didn't get us where we wanted. I've realised that, at this top level in a World Cup, it's unforgiving. A moment really of sheer misfortune can throw everyone into a realm of despair that you didn't know was possible.
“This game will tell me a lot about the players. It's been a very tough few days and it's hard to pick yourselves up for a game that, even if you do well in, serves no purpose. The 100-cap players will find that hard. We'll learn a lot about the others. I've liked what I've seen around the hotel and in training. I'm now giving them the opportunity, not because I can, but because this is a good team on the field and they can go and win the game. I hope they prove me right.”
We are into the realms of hope now because England’s manager will effectively use this last game to provide experience for those who have not featured so far in the World Cup. He has managed at least, to keep the camp at an even keel. It has been remarkable how few tales of discontent have emerged, although that may leak out over time as it has in the past.
Hodgson was heartened by an encounter with England supporters at the team hotel in Belo Horizonte in which he felt he and his players had been given a fair hearing. It would be only natural to fear what the response might be when he returns home, but even Frank Lampard – a veteran of the 2006 and 2010 finals – said he felt that the mood was more forgiving this time.
Lampard will captain a side that includes young ones such as Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere and Phil Jones, as well as the relatively inexperienced Chris Smalling and Adam Lallana in what looks like a 4-3-3 system. It could well be the last game his international career. What did he think of the likes of Barkley, Shaw and Wilshere?
“They've got great potential,” Lampard said. “Perhaps more than potential because they've shown it a bit on the international stage and with their clubs. They need to develop. They may make mistakes, but you need to give them time. Don't build them up too much after so many performances. They're there for the future and that's good. They'll make little mistakes along the way and improve, and hopefully will be stronger for this experience. Being knocked out of a tournament. It doesn't feel good, but if they can use it they'll be stronger for it.”
Lampard, one of the two golden boys of Euro 2004 a decade ago, has had to develop a thick skin over the years. He missed a penalty against Portugal in the quarter-finals in 2006 and had a legitimate goal ruled out against Germany four years ago. Playing away with Chelsea during the 2006-2007 season home supporters would chant “You let your country down” at him. He has always been a serious type, but ever more guarded since then.
“There was a lot of negative stuff after Germany and South Africa. But people see the direction we're going in. People may forgive some of the young boys who have had fantastic seasons and shown a bit what they can do. I'll happily talk to the boys and let them know that, if [the abuse happens] it fizzles out eventually”.
Even so, they know they could do with beating Costa Rica tomorrow. “The teams you play now, not even world famous teams like Italy, Germany or France, you see how much they've progressed,” Hodgson said. “Things are getting tighter all the time, and the margin you're going to need for success gets smaller all the time. It's a long time since we won the World Cup, but we are world cup winners and it's something we need to be aware of. The task will get tougher and we'll have to get a lot better if we're going to compete.”
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