Costa Rica v England – watch live on ITV1 at 5pm
England’s World Cup adventure is over following just two games. But while it’s difficult to disguise the disappointment of their early exit, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
Hitherto I haven’t been hypercritical of Roy Hodgson and the decisions he has made in the lead up to, and during, the Three Lions’ campaign in Brazil. But that’s about to change.
I personally feel that Frank Lampard often finds himself on the end of harsh criticism from the terraces. His longevity at the top level is indicative of what a fine athlete he is, and his record with Chelsea speaks for itself.
However, I was bemused when learning that Lampard will captain England in their final game of the tournament against Costa Rica on Tuesday. The criticism is directed at Hodgson, though, not Frank.
Why is it that, no matter who is managing England, there is this raging obsession with fielding older players? Hodgson, like many before him, may point to the importance of blending experience with youth, in order to achieve the right balance.
In theory that formula makes perfect sense. Indeed, the more experienced players can impart their know-how on to the rookies, right?
In theory, combining the know-how and all round footballing intelligence of the older players with the exuberance of the bright young things will have a synergistic effect, right?
Wrong, on both counts. At least in the context of England. The older players, for all their success at club level, don’t bring know-how to the table on the international stage, they bring know-how-not-to instead.
What good is experience when it is based on consistent failure? Have the likes of Lampard, Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney ever really made a difference in an England shirt when it really matters? No, they haven’t. Yet they are consistently rewarded with a place in the squad.
Hodgson made positive choices when selecting the likes of Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley for the tournament, but did that trio all start in the matches against Italy and Uruguay? Nope.
You’re probably thinking, this was meant to be a preview of England v Costa Rica, not a rant, right? Right. Sorry about that…
England v Costa Rica betting advice
The Central American side have been a surprise package. They were considered to be rank outsiders in Group D, but Jorge Luis Pinto’s charges have already beaten Uruguay and Italy, and have sealed their place in the last 16.
Key strikers Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz are likely to be rested, but Los Ticos will not want to lose this game. A draw is all they require to top the group and avoid a clash with Colombia, who look set to win Group C, in the next round.
For the Three Lions, the only thing at stake is pride. Hodgson will be keen to end the tournament with some semblance of respectability, and only a victory against Costa Rica will do.
However, looking at the betting, the same thing occurred to me as prior to the Uruguay game – England are far shorter in the match result market than they ought to be (most firms go 17/20 England).
BetVictor, meanwhile, have stuck their neck out by going 7/2 about Costa Rica. I honestly cannot make sense of the chasm between the two sides in the betting but, in any case, the match result market isn’t where the value resides in this game.
Los Ticos have tackled Italy and Uruguay without conceding from open play (Uruguay’s goal was a penalty) and if they do opt to park the bus and strive for a 0-0 draw, England could struggle to infiltrate their defence in Belo Horizonte.
Italy v Uruguay – watch live on ITV4 at 5pm
Italy and Uruguay have two things in common going into their pivotal Group D clash in Natal on Tuesday: both have beaten England, and both have been beaten by Costa Rica, which means that one of them will be going home.
Bookmakers find it difficult to separate them – Paddy Power go 7/4 each of two – and there’s unlikely to be much between the two sides in the match itself, too. Indeed, it promises to be a fascinating clash.
Italy started the tournament brightly, beating England 2-1. But they lacked spark and cutting edge when turned over by Costa Rica in Recife on Friday. Uruguay did the same but in reverse, losing 3-1 to Los Ticos prior to outpointing England.
La Celeste didn’t play particularly well against the Three Lions in São Paulo, but two well-taken Luis Suarez goals was enough to sink Roy Hodgson’s side. When you have a player like Suarez, you don’t need to necessarily play well, but if you play to the strengths of your key man that is often sufficient.
Uruguay did just that, creating two good chances for their talisman which he duly converted. Love him or loathe him, Suarez is probably the best out-and-out striker in the game at present. He possesses that all-important killer instinct in front of goal, but also the level of skill and flair more synonymous with a No 10.
Going into this crucial decider, it’s Oscar Tabarez’s men that have the greater momentum. They shook off the disappointment of losing against Costa Rica by beating England, and now Italy need to prove that they can quickly bounce back from defeat.
A draw would be enough to secure a place in the last 16 for Cesare Prandelli’s side, whereas only a win will do for the Uruguayans. And the Azzurri will be buoyed by the fact that they have lost just three of their 19 previous World Cup matches against South American opposition.
However, the Italians have received a big blow on the eve of this Group D showdown, with news that Daniele de Rossi is struggling with a leg injury which he picked up against Costa Rica, and the 30-year-old midfielder is set to miss out.
Italy v Uruguay betting advice
It will be interesting too see how the Italians approach this game, bearing in mind that a draw would be enough to secure their place in the knockout phase.
If Andrea Pirlo stamps his authority in the middle of the park and gets the Azzurri ticking, they could easily frustrate the Uruguayans by retaining possession, while Mario Balotelli has the strength and presence to hold the ball up well in advance positions.
However, if Prandelli sets his side up with the specific remit of playing for a draw, that could prove suicidal. As La Celeste demonstrated against England, even if they are not at their best they possess the ability to break quickly on the counter and punish teams.
Edinson Cavani was anonymous for much of the England game, but he produced a deft pass to set up the opening goal. The PSG striker is a real threat, while Suarez will be brimming with confidence following hus match-winning brace against the Three Lions.
As alluded to earlier, Uruguay have momentum on their side and, I reckon Tabarez’s men will show the greater desire – they will want it more – which I believe will ultimately tilt the scales in their favour. A victory for the South Americans beckons.
Uruguay in the match result market – 7/4 (Paddy Power)