By Andrew Cawthorne
England’s wounded ‘Three Lions’ play for pride only in their final World Cup game on Tuesday against Costa Rica who want another scalp to seal top spot in Group D after shocking Uruguay and Italy.
In a thrilling tournament with no pushover teams, the Central Americans have perhaps proved the biggest surprise, fully deserving wins over two former world champions that have taken them beyond the group stage for the first time since 1990.
Having beaten Uruguay 3-1 in their opener, then marked Italy’s Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli out of the second game in a 1-0 win, the ‘Ticos’ are bouncing and will have no fear of England who they have never played before.
Even a draw would guarantee Costa Rica top spot and a last-16 match against the runners-up in Group C.
“Surprise is for the non-believers!” said midfielder Celso Borges of his team’s remarkable World Cup so far.
Though sticking to a five-man backline, Costa Rica have been anything but boring, with silky counter-attacks feeding speedy lone striker Joel Campbell and attacking midfielder Bryan Ruiz.
England, who had been looking at this fixture as their easiest in the group, will treat Costa Rica with new-found respect but may understandably be more focused on their own tortured emotions after a miserable time in Brazil.
“Obviously we’re hurting,” said a despondent Wayne Rooney, whose first goal at a World Cup came against Uruguay but was little consolation for the humiliation of England’s first failure to progress past the group stage since 1958.
“We have to try and pick ourselves up for this game on Tuesday, go out fighting and show our pride,” he said.
Though they showed speed and brightness in attack for long periods, and even FIFA boss Sepp Blatter called them unlucky, England were outwitted in losses to Italy and Uruguay.
Despite his failure, coach Roy Hodgson has been ratified to stay on for the 2016 European Championship and has no choice but to keep faith with England’s new crop of exciting young players and prevent the Brazil experience denting their progress.
He may therefore blood 18-year-old left back Luke Shaw against Costa Rica and also start exciting midfielder Ross Barkley, 20. Winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 20, is available after injury and could also see some action.
The new generation may have little interest in tales from the distant past, but one they should perhaps not ignore is England’s infamous 1950 defeat by the United States in Belo Horizonte, one of the biggest all-time World Cup upsets.
A cocky England team known as the ‘Kings of Football’ came to the Brazilian city expecting a goal-fest against a team of US amateurs, but were undone 1-0 by a goal from a New York dishwasher.
The crestfallen current England team will display no such arrogance when they take the field for the last time at the finals before returning home to watch the rest of the tournament on TV.