Costa Rica wins Group D after goalless draw against lifeless England

Costa Rica wins Group D after goalless draw against lifeless England

Costa Rica and England strolled to a 0-0 draw at the Mineirao Tuesday afternoon. The result gave the Ticos top of the group and a date with a team to be determined later on Tuesday. Three teams are fighting for second place in Group C.

The game was effectively dead for both teams. England had been eliminated after their loss to Uruguay; Costa Rica had locked up advancement but had the chance to ensure the top slot with a win or a draw. From the start, they looked set up to stifle rather than to create, daring a vastly-changed England lineup to take the game to them.

As a result, at times the game had the pace of a testimonial, with most of the players maintaining the kind of respectful distance that professionals allow one another in a dead rubber. The Ticos kept it honest, tackling here and there, but for the most part this was a pleasant amble in the Belo Horizonte sunshine.

Roy Hodgson, who will be retained through 2016 despite seeing England crash out of the group stages for the first time since 1958, made nine changes to the side that was swallowed up by Uruguay's Luis Suarez last week. There was a run-out for Frank Lampard, playing in what is surely his final World Cup as snake-bit captain Steven Gerrard watched on from the bench.

Daniel Sturridge was England's most active player, and had England's best chance of the half, a hit from about 25 yards out that curled past Keylor Navas' bar. Aside from that, there was precious little to remark on for most of the half, and the crowd gleefully taunted the men in white with shouts of "€œEliminados," a bit cruel but entirely fair.

Ben Foster was nearly caught out twice at the other end, with Joel Campbell popping one on in the second minute. Celso Borges forced him to work a bit harder on 25 minutes when he tossed a free-kick up that the West Bromwich Albion man palmed onto his own bar. Bryan Ruiz continued to pop up here and there but for the most part, the Ticos looked like a side that just wanted to do enough to avoid playing Colombia in the next round. In truth, they have already massively overachieved -- few thought Costa Rica would be anything more than cannon fodder in what was supposed to be a desperately tough group.

England now must go back and retool. They have shown once again that they are not close to competing with the very best on the world stage, and will have a lot of work to do in central midfield ahead of the European Championships. If there is a silver lining, it is that Hodgson now has an excuse to usher Gerrard -- who was awful -- out the door for good.

The problem, as some in England are finally realizing, is that there are few credible replacements. England simply is not producing enough top-level talent. There are few enough players in the world with the viciousness of a Suarez, the grace of a Lionel Messi or an Andrea Pirlo. While there are plenty of them in the Premier League, none were actually born in Albion.

Moreover, England suffers under the weight of expectation. For reasons that are baffling to everyone outside of that very insulated island, the English seem to believe they should be a dominant power in every international tournament. This is ludicrous -- the equivalent of asserting that Scottish players should rule professional golf by virtue of the nation having invented the game -- and it is a particularly toxic and damaging delusion. It has led their media to pile on endless pressure, and it leaves their fans unable to understand why the team cannot succeed.

It should be noted that this public cycle of elation and blame is far easier than doing the hard work of rebuilding the grassroots game. The truth is that England's youth development has withered. There are major gaps in coaching, training, facilities and attitude (It is telling that a recent survey of English youth players showed they valued tackling above actual key technical attributes, much to the chagrin of the FA). But ideas to change that a B-league, changes in coaching setups, what-have-you never gain traction. Why? Because England clings to tradition as a reflex and that kills any sensible attempts at reform. It has also left England trapped in a history that never actually existed and is likely to condemn this team to being also-rans forever and more.

In contrast, the unheralded Ticos came with no expectations, and lifted themselves above all. They have matched up well against three former World Cup winners, and yet, if you had asserted that prior to this tournament, you would have been laughed off your barstool. Good old Costa Rica -- they got the last laugh.

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