Ignore, for one moment, England’s bland ignominy and just enjoy those moments at the final whistle. Costa Rica – little, patronised Costa Rica – have won Group D and their manager, Jorge Luis Pinto, could be seen punching the air and screaming to the skies. As one team traipsed away apologetically, the other reflected on the prize of a knockout tie in Recife on Sunday. They have done it from a country of 4.8m people. Or the equivalent of ten Bradfords. “It’s a conundrum,” as Roy Hodgson said.
For England, it was the strange feeling of being at someone else’s party, with their noses pressed against the window outside. It was a stodgy performance and, if this was the final match for Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard at this level, the truth is it will quickly be forgotten. Hodgson, his players and staff will have a lot to ponder on the flight back to Luton and a prosaic goalless draw will not have made it any less harrowing on the way to the departures’ hall.
At times it felt like a throwback to those warm-up games in Miami, with a strange flow to the game and only brief moments when the crowd were fully absorbed. Except back then there was a measure of excitement. Now there was the sense of dragging out a long, awkward goodbye. In one stand the crowd entertained themselves by whacking a beach ball around. The first Mexican wave started lapping the stadium after 15 minutes and England’s supporters went through a repertoire of gallows-humour chants. It was, in short, about as dreary it has been since the World Cup began.
Hodgson could reflect that Daniel Sturridge could easily have changed the complexion a little if he had been more clinical with at least three presentable chances. Sturridge at least showed for those opportunities, even if his finishing was misjudged on every occasion. Equally, there were other moments that fitted neatly into the England story and felt entirely unsatisfactory. Phil Jones could be seen trying to control a routine pass and giving away a throw-in. Chris Smalling’s lack of refinement on the ball was noticeable more times than he will want to remember and there was a little snapshot of England’s tournament in that first-half moment when Jack Wilshere and Bryan Ruiz went for the same ball. Ruiz got their first, spinning away from Wilshere with a lovely little pirouette.
Wilshere, to give him his due, was one of England’s better performers. Luke Shaw looked totally at ease in the left-back role and Ben Foster, deputising for Joe Hart, contributed to the game’s outstanding moment with his save from Celso Borges’s free-kick midway through the opening half. Borges’s effort was curling into the top corner until Foster, at full length, touched it on to the crossbar.
Unfortunately for England, they could not conjure up anything so dramatic at the other end. Hodgson brought on Gerrard, as well as Wayne Rooney and Raheem Sterling, in the final exchanges, but the game shuffled towards its end without a great deal of drama. Hodgson led his team over to the end housing England’s fans and, if nothing else, it was a sympathetic reception.
Report by The Guardian