England bid farewell to their home supporters when they host Costa Rica in their final pre-World Cup friendly at Elland Road in Leeds on Thursday (20:00 BST, live on ITV).
The Three Lions extended their unbeaten streak coming into Russia 2018 with a 2-1 win against Nigeria at Wembley on Saturday. They are now undefeated in nine matches stretching back to last September, including friendly draws with Brazil and Germany.
Gareth Southgate was very pleased with the way his side performed during the first half against Nigeria. Goals from Gary Cahill and captain Harry Kane saw them go into the interval two goals to the good at the end of a half of football in which they had moved the ball well and created plenty of problems for the Nigeria defence with their pace and movement.
Jesse Lingard was able to find space whenever he moved forward from his attacking midfield role, while Raheem Sterling brushed off recent controversies with an energetic and inventive performance. Dele Alli produced some neat touches at times, and while there were a few moments when England overdid things playing out of defence, it was not a major concern.
Things took a turn for the worse after the break. Nigeria adjusted their formation and made a number of substitutions that England struggled to react to. Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi pulled a goal back two minutes into the half, and there were a few nervy moments thereafter. As Southgate admitted afterwards, his side cannot afford to switch off to such a degree at the World Cup.
The starting XI against Nigeria was more or less the one with which England can be expected to begin their World Cup campaign against Tunisia on 18th June. In this match on Thursday, Southgate is likely to give opportunities to other options. Jamie Vardy is slated to start up front, while goalkeeper Nick Pope and the Liverpool pair of Jordan Henderson and the currently uncapped Trent Alexander-Arnold could also get some minutes.
Costa Rica arrive in England on the back of a 3-0 victory over Northern Ireland in their valedictory match in the Estadio Nacional in San Jose on Sunday. Johan Venegas, Joel Campbell and Francisco Calvo scored the goals as they recorded their second win over one of the home nations this year, following their 1-0 triumph away to Scotland in March.
Costa Rica were the surprise package of the last World Cup, emerging from a group featuring three former champions, in England, Italy and Uruguay, and then defeating Greece on penalties before falling to the Netherlands by the same method in the last eight. However, only just under half of that squad will be part of the group for Russia 2018.
The man in the dugout will also be different. Jorge Luis Pinto led Costa Rica to that best performance in a World Cup only to leave soon after. The current occupant is Oscar Ramirez, who took over in August 2015 after Costa Rica’s disappointing Gold Cup campaign brought to a relatively swift end the reign of former Derby County striker Paulo Wanchope.
Ramirez has said that he hopes to use his side’s three warm-up friendlies as an opportunity to accustom them to a variety of systems and approaches. Northern Ireland were the easy lead-in; the friendly against England is followed by another against Belgium next Monday.
Of those likely to start on Thursday, Venegas and the Arsenal-owned, perennial loanee Campbell, an inconsistent performer yet capable of the spectacular, will offer the main goal threats. Bryan Ruiz, formerly of Fulham, Christian Bolanos and Marcos Urena, their top scorer in qualifying, are all still working their way back from injury niggles.
Even at full strength, Costa Rica are not as potent an attacking force as Nigeria, as evidenced by the fact that they have failed to score in three of their last five matches. England, meanwhile, have kept clean sheets in six of their last nine. The Three Lions can be expected to record victory on Thursday – and are best priced 2/5 with the online bookmakers to do so – and it will most likely come without the concession of a goal.
Our Preview’s England vs. Costa Rica Betting Tips Verdict
- Back England to win to nil @ best odds of 6/5 with BetVictor.