20:00 BST, Thursday 7 June, Elland Road (Leeds, England)
Gareth Southgate’s England will finish up their preparations for the 2018 World Cup by welcoming Costa Rica to England.
However, it won’t be familiar surroundings for the home side. Southgate and the FA opted to broaden England’s reach ahead of the tournament by aiming to schedule at least one warm-up match away from Wembley.
Leeds United’s Elland Road will play host to the Three Lions on Thursday evening and it will be the first time since 2002 that the West Yorkshire club have welcomed the national side. England were forced to use other grounds during Wembley’s reconstruction from 2001 to 2007, with a variety of clubs offering their stadiums as venues.
The game will have equal meaning and importance for both sides, but this will be Southgate and England’s final chance to fine tune everything before heading to Russia.
England are in good form of late and have gone almost a year without losing (a 3-2 defeat in France last June), but will aim to gather as much momentum as possible ahead of what they hope will be a long summer.
Costa Rica’s recent record is comparatively more blotchy. The Central Americans have lost four of their last six although ran out comfortable 3-0 winners over Northern Ireland in their last appearance.
Both teams qualified for the tournament comfortably with England topping their UEFA region group without losing a game. Costa Rica safely navigated the potentially tricky CONCACAF ‘Hexagonal’ phase and finished runners-up to Mexico.
Costa Rica will visit Belgium on Monday for their final friendly before their World Cup starts in Samara.
With manager Gareth Southgate looking increasingly like he has decided on the formation and shape that his team will adopt in Russia, there are still one or two question marks over which personnel will fill it.
Veteran Gary Cahill played the full 90 minutes against Nigeria and so is likely he will now make way for Leicester City man Harry Maguire.
Eric Dier also started on Saturday in place of Jordan Henderson with the Liverpool man being rested after returning late from the Champions League final.
With Ruben Loftus-Cheek impressing once he came on against Nigeria, he may be given a start against Costa Rica.
Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling appear to have been tasked with leading the line in attack, so it’s likely those two will start this one.
Costa Rica Lineup
Costa Rica’s presence on the world stage isn’t a rarity. Of the last eight World Cup finals, they have qualified for five.
Manager Oscar Ramirez usually elects to deploy a contained, reserved formation while using pace to hit teams on the counter-attack.
Premier League fans will be familiar with the ex-Arsenal fringe player, Joel Campbell, who provides his side with a natural outlet.
With three games in seven days, however, Ramirez may rotate his squad.
Key Battle: Kieran Trippier (England) vs Bryan Oviedo (Costa Rica)
Much of England’s success this summer will be down to the players’ ability to adapt to the implemented formation and use it to their strengths.
Harry Kane’s prowess in front of goal is no secret but England’s ability to create chances for him will be the key to a successful campaign.
The system Southgate has adopted affords the two wing-backs the opportunity to get forward and attack. Should he keep his place, Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier will be tasked with getting balls into the opposition box.
With pace and the ability to take on his opponent and deliver a consistent final ball, Trippier may prove to be a handful for Bryan Oviedo.
Are Southgate’s England ready for Russia?
Much of the talk of this game, especially from an England point of view, will be centered on the team Southgate selects. With only one more chance to get everything right, there is now little room for error and experiment.
Since taking the job at the helm, his ethos and philosophy has been clear, and England have developed a new identity. Adamant in his shape and style, only the right players now need putting in the right holes.
While most of the slots in the XI for England’s first group game will already be decided, there are still one or two positions up for grabs. Will the XI that start in this friendly be the same XI that face Tunisia…?
Prediction: England 2-0 Costa Rica
England’s performances in recent tournaments have left a lot to be desired, and Southgate’s charges will be under pressure to turn it around in Russia.
A good, solid turnout on Thursday evening will give England fans extra hope and belief to get behind their side before the World Cup kicks off on the 14th. However, a defeat or abject display will be the stuff of nightmares for Southgate as an unwanted dark cloud will hang over his squad’s head.
The players will know what they’re up against, and there is a lot more riding on this one than ‘it’s just a friendly’.
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