Relief for Hodgson as fans stick by sorry England
Manager grateful for support at end of a drab 0-0 draw with group winners Costa Rica
England manager Roy Hodgson admitted his side were fortunate to be applauded off after completing their sorry World Cup campaign with a 0-0 draw against Costa Rica on Tuesday.
The result at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, the city that hosted England’s shock 1-0 loss to the United States in 1950, saw the 1966 champions register their lowest points total in World Cup history.
Hodgson had called for an improved showing after the 2-1 defeats by Italy and Uruguay, but despite making nine changes to his starting XI, England again looked short of inspiration against the surprise group D winners.
Nevertheless, the white-clad hordes of travelling England fans stood and clapped the players when they came over to salute them after the game, and Hodgson was quick to express his gratitude.
“We are very grateful for the emotional moment at the end where they showed their support,” said the 66-year-old, who has been publicly backed by the Football Association despite his team’s early exit.
“We are so sad and disappointed for them, because we know what they’re going through.
“We had nothing to play for, and our fans appreciated that by giving us an ovation that, obviously, our results didn’t merit.”
Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge squandered England’s best chances of victory, heading over the bar in the first half and being let down by a poor first touch and a wayward finish in the second.
While much of England’s play was characterised by sloppy passing and technical errors, Hodgson was enthused by the performances of his less experienced players.
Left-back Luke Shaw, 18, and midfielder Ross Barkley, 20, both caught the eye on their first competitive debuts, while Jack Wilshere and Adam Lallana impressed in midfield.
“We are disappointed that it was our final game in the competition because we wanted so much more,” Hodgson said.
“But I thought there were a lot of positives to take out of the game, with young players getting their first taste of World Cup football, which will serve them in good stead going forward.”
Many of the squad’s younger members will hope to feature when England begin their 2016 European Championship qualifying campaign in September, but Hodgson warned they still have a long way to go.
“The midfielders, the young ones, showed they want to do the right thing, want to get on the front foot and be positive, and want to make things happen,” Hodgson said.
“That’s a very good thing. You accept they lose the ball sometimes or don’t find the right pass, but at 18, 19, 20, we can’t give them what Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard have.
“You can only give them the opportunity to play, and hopefully they’ll get there.”
Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto felt his side proved their worth by qualifying for the last 16 as group winners.
“We have proved we can play good football and this makes me feel proud,” said the Colombian, whose side finished unbeaten after previous shock wins over Uruguay and Italy.
“It means our players deserve recognition. We’re going to keep this style and this philosophy, so people say it’s not luck.
“Some people had doubts after the Uruguay game (a 3-1 win). People started believing after the game against Italy (1-0) and with this match, we have proved that Costa Rica can do a lot.”
Costa Rica were widely predicted to finish bottom of the group and their sensational performance carries echoes of their tournament debut in 1990, when a similarly unheralded side also reached the last 16.
While they failed to score for the first time since arriving in Brazil against eliminated England, Pinto said he took great pride from the enterprise his team have shown in their three matches to date.
“Our team is a very even team,” he said. “I think technically, everyone has to know how to defend and how to attack. We’re not worried about just defending, just attacking, or just staying in our half.
“We’re doing something unexpected. Some people said we’d only defend, but that’s not true. You’ve seen it. We’ve been able to attack as well and that’s why we’re very proud.
“We come from a country where people like to play football, so I’m very glad my players have been so good with the ball. They try to keep possession. It shows what kind of players I have.”