Having been dumped out of the World Cup with a game to spare, England’s final World Cup fixture was an opportunity to go out like Spain on a high note and start what is likely to be an ugly rebuilding process.
Instead, after a goalless draw with Costa Rica, England’s loyal supporters will fly home anxious at the thought of what the European Championship qualifiers have in store.
The commentators who repeatedly cite England’s elimination as one of the World Cup’s major shocks have very little grounds for doing so. Unlike a decade or so ago when England could boast of one of the finest defenses in the world and an embarrassment of riches in midfield, the current squad is rather average and looks extremely vulnerable at the back. Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines are not bad players; they’re just nowhere near as good as Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole were.
After the defeat against Uruguay, England coach Roy Hodgson made nine changes to his starting line-up using the meaningless fixture to give some youth a taste of the World Cup and provide a send-off to Frank Lampard, who captained the side.
Striker Daniel Sturridge, who scored in England’s 2-1 defeat against Italy, kept his place in the starting eleven, and the Liverpool man nearly put his country a goal ahead. After some nice build-up play by Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, Sturridge curled his shot just wide of Keylor Navas’ left post. An unmarked Ross Barkley was clearly a little less impressed with Sturridge’s close effort.
But as England grew more confident going forward, it was the Costa Ricans, perhaps recalling their defeat of their opponent’s northern neighbors 24 years ago, who nearly went ahead. Halfway through the first half Celso Borges’ sweetly struck free kick was just tipped onto the crossbar by England’s second string goalkeeper Ben Foster.
That was the Costa Ricans’ only real opportunity during the game. Unfortunately for England, frustration would continue as Sturridge headed a ball over the bar from close range soon after.
If the first half was fairly balanced, England fans were left scratching their heads wondering how they ended up on the plane without the consolation of three points. Sturridge was in the thick of the action again by playing a neat one-two with Wilshere, only to curl his shot wide instead of passing to substitute Raheem Sterling for what would have been a tap-in.
England continued to enjoy the bulk of the action as substitute Wayne Rooney attempted to chip Navas from distance only for the Costa Rican goalkeeper to touch the ball over the crossbar.
England probably deserved to win this one, but at least the humiliation is finally over. Whether their players lack commitment to the international team remains unclear, but what is patently obvious, however, is that despite possessing some decent players they continue to underperform.
What we learned about … England: With nothing to play for it made sense for Roy Hodgson to experiment with players who will be regulars for the European Championship qualifiers. Everton’s Ross Barkley impressed, and Southampton’s Luke Shaw hardly put a foot wrong at left back. Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere was creative in midfield, but has struggled for consistency — something one might say of Raheem Sterling.
Daniel Sturridge had a game he’d rather forget. Although the Costa Rica game was more about end the campaign on a high, it mirrored that of England’s two other games: plenty of possession but very little execution. Tuesday’s game also signaled the end of Frank Lampard’s international career and probably that of captain Steven Gerrard.
What we learned about … Costa Rica: Is Costa Rica qualifying from the “real” Group of Death the shock of the tournament? Perhaps, but this team has always been “more than capable of springing a few surprises.”
Although they enjoyed very few opportunities throughout the game, Costa Rica achieved their most important goal: getting through the fixture while remaining at the top of the group. Not a performance to write home about by any means, but arguably a more testing one than their opponents in the last 16. Next up: Greece.
Ewan Watt writes extensively on state and national issues in the U.S., covering the 2012 presidential election for both print and online publications. He is providing commentary for the Daily Caller on a regular basis throughout the World Cup. He writes strictly in a personal capacity. You can follow him on Twitter at @ewancwatt