Another bad day in Belo for England

England heading home after dull 0-0 draw with Group D winners Costa Rica

England 0 Costa Rica 0

It’s unclear whether it’s what they meant when the England players talked on Monday about restoring some pride but the word filtering through from Natal suggested this was only this afternoon’s second worst game. It’s hard to imagine how, to be honest, and it was certainly the less eventful of the two late on with this game lacking bite and offering only the tiniest hint of crowd trouble as something to remember it by.

Roy Hodgson has had little option but to talk up the prospects of a brighter future since his team's early elimination was confirmed last week but neither he nor the team's supporters could have taken much encouragement from the performances turned in by the second string here. Costa Rica, at least, had earned the opportunity to put their feet up and that's just what they did; the hope from their point of view being that they have not perhaps needlessly spent a little of that most precious of commodities in these tournaments: momentum.

Jorge Luis Pinto’s men took their collective foot so comprehensively off the pedal that they were a distant second best at times. Still, they defended well for the most part and kept an England strike-force that would, when the tournament previews were being written, have been expected to be capable of putting a few past them firmly at bay. Okay, it wasn’t quite losing to the USA here in 1950 but it was, generally speaking, another bad day in Belo Horizonte.

READ MORE

For long spells it seemed as though nobody cared really. Inside the Estadio Mineirao it felt like the crowd of 57,823 was hanging out at the beach. There were Mexican waves, a beach ball and non-stop chatter with people apparently seeing the game as little more than a backdrop to an afternoon in the sun. And out on the pitch the players looked to feel much the same way about it all.

Once or twice the England fans who have paid so much to travel so far in support of their team managed to raise their voices in collective song but they struggled to keep it going for a few moments at a time; much like the players and their passing. Late on, perhaps, the frustrations of a very few seemed to spill over and the police had to intervene but for the most part their disappointment has been borne with considerable fortitude and, after the tournament he has had, the reception given to Steven Gerrard when he came off the bench in the second half was a significant display of generosity.

His arrival changed little or nothing here in a game that was already petering out. Wayne Rooney, who arrived a few minutes later, made about as impact although he did make one half decent attempt to nick a late win for England.

They had the better of the chances from play over the 90 minutes with Daniel Sturridge’s curling first half effort about the best of them for a long time although the Liverpool striker, who also had a pretty good penalty claim at one point, might have done better on that occasion to push the ball out wide where James Milner was ready, waiting and completely unmarked.

The shot had come after what was perhaps England’s best passing move of the game up until that point with Chris Smalling feeding Jack Wilshire, who in turn moved the ball forward at speed, but it was a rare display of urgency by a side who generally played at a pace that suggested they really couldn’t see the point of exerting themselves.

Frank Lampard did better than most, passing the ball well and doing a fair bit of tidying up in the space behind the line of four midfielders but for all the line up changes, there were plenty of reminders of how England came to find themselves in this predicament with the Costa Ricans, liberated by the knowledge that they were already through, skipping past opponents with ridiculous ease at times; no matter that they lacked the ambition to make more of the half chances they were creating.

The closest they came to scoring was a fine looking Celso Borges free that was on course for the top left corner until Ben Foster got up smartly to touch it onto the woodwork. Their best work, though, was in defence with Oscar Duarte and Giancarlo Gonzalez both playing prominent roles in what again looked like a very well marshalled back line.

Still, Sturridge will feel he should have scored at some stage with a second half effort that slipped just the wrong side of the left hand post probably deserving better. To get hung up on the quality of the finishing, though, would be to miss the point. This has been a terrible tournament for England and they now find themselves looking forward to Euro2016 in the hope, like Ireland, that they will be beneficiaries from the drop in quality caused by the expansion of the tournament. Talk of contending for titles will have to wait, it seems, until well beyond that.

As for Costa Rica, their own lack of commitment here was totally understandable but after topping the group and seeing both Italy and England go out there has to be the fear that, deep down, their own World Cup might already have been won.

.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Industry and Employment Correspondent at The Irish Times