Elland Road - World Cup 2018

England Continue World Cup Preparation Success – England vs Costa Rica Match Review

England will head to Russia full of confidence, as they saw off Costa Rica with a 2 – 0 victory at Elland Road.

Gareth Southgate pushed a refreshed team for this match, making 10 changes to the squad seen in last weeks England v Nigeria match. Previous captain Harry Kane was replaced by Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson, and the match was also saw the international debut of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Burnley keeper Nick Pope. With just two international matches to prepare the team for the tournament, Gareth Southgate was clearly aiming to give every player game time before getting on the plane.

The First Half

England started in the same vein as they did when they faced Nigeria, with attacking forwards and well practised set-pieces working their way through the Costa Rican defence. Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford was a danger from the first whistle, spearheading these attacks and putting home a goal in the 13th minute.

An arcing kick from outside the box and over the heads of the opposing defence, the goal is sure to please the striker after his frustrating season at Old Trafford, which has seen him with restricted starting appearances. The goal will also serve as an electrifying reminder to Southgate what the twenty year old can do, and is sure to necesitate a number of difficult decisions when picking from a squad already full of talented goal scorers.

The rest of the first half continued in a similar way, with a number of solid chances created by England, but none resulting in a goal. The closest came from Jamie Vardy, who saw a shot saved at close range. The Leicester man would have been looking to do better before heading to Russia following the success of the squads other strikers, but with a solid goal scoring record with his club this year he’s still in with a chance of doing well at the tournament. Danny Rose also performed admirably, doing enough to remind Southgate what he is capable of.

The Second Half

The second half saw many substitutions, another testament to Southgate’s commitment to giving everyone game time; Danny Welbeck, Nick Pope, Kieran Trippier, Dele Alli, Gary Cahill and Jesse Lingard all made appearances after the break.

The second half also saw potential symptoms of the traditional English ailment of a lack of momentum, with the number of chances created dropping along with the overall pace. However, its clear that Southgate realised this was also an issue against Nigeria and aided by a refreshed post-break squad, England retained the majority of possession, always feeling like they were in control.

Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas saved admirably from Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson, but could do little against a masterful 1-2 from Dele Alli and Welbeck. After Dele Alli artfully crossed it through most of the Costa Rican defence, Welbeck got his head to it for a goal that sailed past the beleaguered goalkeeper.

The Spurs man arguably did most of the work and after a similarly solid supporting role with Kane against Nigeria, the opportunity to showcase his talent and versatility with other players is sure to boost Dele Alli’s chances of a regular place on the England squad.

Buoyed by a solid lead, the rest of the match saw England continue to maintain possession, albeit without any more goals, and as the final whistle blew England can be satisfied with a confident and thoroughly competently played match.

What can Gareth Southgate learn and what does this game mean for Spurs players?

Southgate is taking a markedly cerebral approach to his World Cup preparation, trying a number players and tactics before embarking on the campaign, a solid strategy considering the variety of talent he has on offer. His number of substitutions may have affected the pace of the game, but its clear issues with consistency and momentum may still rear their heads in games to come, as will issues with finishing. However, with a team as saturated with goalscorers as this, there’s no reason to suggest that this won’t be rectified; there’s already been an improvement since the Nigeria game.

The elephant in the room, on this website of all places, is the lack of standout Spurs performances and players in this game compared to the last one. This can be largely attributed to Southgate’s desire to see everyone on the pitch before Volgograd and there no reason to say Spurs players won’t play a key role. The standout performances of the squads Liverpool and Man United players is sure to produce some difficult discussion about who gets called up match-to-match, but in a post game press meeting, Southgate said;

“We made 10 changes and maintained the momentum with what we are doing…Everyone knew their roles and the collective effort of the group shows a really good mentality.”

In a squad full of Spurs players, Southgate’s focus on teamwork and ‘collective effort’ will be amplified by the partnerships forged in the club game; Dele Alli and Harry Kane have already proved to be a devastating partnership upfront and Rose, Dier and Trippier have played solidly the past couple of games. Extend this teamwork out to include the talents of Rashford, Welbeck and Vardy, and Spurs players could be the backbone of the squad throughout the tournament.

All in all, Thursday night was another satisfying win for England and yet more reason for confidence going into the World Cup. Couple this with going into their first two matches as the favourite, and England will be facing off against Belgium at the end of the group stages with a well practised and fine-tuned squad.