So this is it, the first time England fail to make it through a World Cup group stage since 1958. Rock bottom.
The post mortem is already in full swing, of course, thanks to the dire, anticlimactic way England’s campaign came to an end. Chris Waddle has torn into English playing culture; Harry Redknapp has claimed players don’t want to play for their country anyway; Adrian Chiles has exhausted his supply of mate-in-the-pub mockery.
Meanwhile, every day a new England player is sacrificed to the FA’s media briefings. They have all looked shell-shocked. The bafflement is both understandable – it really wasn’t meant to be like this – and worrying. No one seems to have the answer: where do England go from here?
An obvious solution lies in their opponents tonight. Costa Rica, a country that has never before made it out of a World Cup group stage, are currently top of Group G and qualified with a game to spare. They deserve it. They’ve played the best football in the group, a notably Premier League style of pressing defence, energetic counter attacking and superb set pieces. If only England could match it.
Two former world champions have already been punctured by Costa Rica’s strength and spirit. Another could well fall tonight, and if England do lose, Costa Rica will become one of a select few to qualify with maximum points this year. Not even Brazil have managed that.
Frank Lampard will take both the captain’s armband and Steven Gerrard’s place in midfield, in what could well be his final game in an England shirt. Both Luke Shaw and Ross Barkley will start with him, but this is not the kind of World Cup “experience” that will turn these ambitious youngsters into world beaters.
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