Milner's England bow out on Costa Rica stalemate
- 24 June 2014 18:53
- Posted by @markbooth_mcfc
England signed off on their FIFA World Cup finals campaign with a goalless draw against Costa Rica.
James Milner was handed his first 75 minutes of the tournament where he exchanged between the left and right wing with Adam Lallana in a 4-3-3 formation.
The City midfielder turned in a typically wholehearted performance, laced with moments of great skill in tight areas and quality deliveries from out wide.
James was withdrawn for Wayne Rooney with a quarter of an hour to go as the Three Lions sought to break down an obstinate defence, though these attempts were ultimately fruitless, meaning Costa Rica top Group D with seven points.
England’s slim hopes of qualification had already been dashed when the day's opposition recorded a shock 1-0 win over Italy, 24 hours after they themselves had lost 2-1 to Uruguay.
Roy Hodgson vowed to start as many members of the squad yet to see action as possible and he was as good as his word, making nine changes to the team that lost to Uruguay last time out.
Only Gary Cahill and ex-Blue Daniel Sturridge remained after these wholesale changes, meaning Joe Hart was named as a substitute for the Three Lions and Ben Foster made his first appearance in Brazil.
Costa Rica had been one of the competition’s surprise packages coming into this match after their two wins from two and former City striker, now-assistant manager of the Group D table-toppers Paulo Wanchope warned that the minnows would demonstrate no fear in this clash against the former winners.
"His sentiments were upheld by “the Ticos”, who attacked from the first whistle and nearly had an immediate reward but Arsenal striker Joel Campbell saw his shot deflect off Gary Cahill and fly narrowly wide of Foster’s left-hand upright."
...England v Costa Rica: Match report...
Sturridge went close for England a couple of minutes later, before Celso Borges drew an excellent save from Foster with a wicked, curling free-kick which kissed the crossbar on 22 minutes.
Hodgson’s men improved as the half wore on and they were desperately unlucky not to be awarded a penalty with the half-hour mark approaching.
Milner’s arcing centre from the left was headed back across goal for Sturridge but Oscar Duarte appeared to bundle him to the ground before he got his shot away.
It wasn’t given and the game remained goalless going into the break, though Milner and company would have been encouraged by the degree of control they managed to assert in the closing 15 minutes of the half.
So accomplished was James's performance that radio pundit Stan Collymore took to Twitter at half-time to share his thoughts, tweeting: “James Milner has been our most creative, skilful attacking threat.”
Although the first 45 minutes had been far from the most attractive in this ever-exciting, unpredictable and goal-laden tournament, the game still had a pleasing ebb and flow to it.
This tidal aesthetic sadly didn’t extend into the second half when the match took on an uneven complexion, punctuated with stoppages and premature breakdowns in both side’s attacking thrusts.
Hodgson threw Raheem Sterling on in place of Adam Lallana after an hour and, five minutes later, England should probably have scored following a lovely move which saw Sturridge exchange passes with Jack Wilshere but the Liverpool striker just missed the far corner with his finish.
Wayne Rooney came on in place of Milner with 15 minutes to go but neither he, nor the rest of his teammates, could spring the cast iron shackles of the stubborn five-man Costa Rica defence.
Elsewhere in Group D, Uruguay joined Costa Rica in the last 16 after they beat 10-man Italy 1-0.
Euro 2016 qualification begins for England in Switzerland on 8 September.