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Jun 22, 2014

Costa Rica vs. England: 50-50 Challenge

Costa RicaCosta Rica
EnglandEngland
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Match 40
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Our expert bloggers will give their thoughts ahead of each game, so as Costa Rica take on England in Group D, Matt Levin (Costa Rica) and John Cross (England) are your guides.

What's at stake?

Matt Levin: Who could've predicted this? Costa Rica and England will meet with little on the line, and shockingly it is the Three Lions who are playing merely for pride. The Ticos just have to avoid disaster (and a decisive result in the Italy/Uruguay match) to top Group D. With a point, Costa Rica assure themselves of a favourable matchup against Group C's second place team in Recife, the location of their stunning win versus the Azzurri. While Costa Rica head to the knockout stage for only the second time ever, they meet an England team not advancing for the first time since 1958. It's the first match ever between the nations, and quite the anti-climax to what has been a thrilling group.

John Cross: For England, pride. Costa Rica, on the other hand, could win Group D, the Group of Death in which they were supposed to be the whipping boys. Los Ticos have been the World Cup's surprise package and beaten Italy and Uruguay. England played well against Italy but poorly against Uruguay, and the only thing left for Roy Hodgson is to regain some much-needed pride after an awful campaign. There's little history between the two nations, except for ex-Manchester City and Derby County striker Paulo Wanchope being Costa Rica's assistant manager, Joel Campbell being an Arsenal player and most curious of all, Belo Horizonte being the scene of England's worst World Cup humiliation. They lost 1-0 to USA there in 1950. It could be even worse if they were defeated again.

X factor

Costa Rican forward Joel Campbell might be given a rest against England.

ML: This is a low-stakes match and both countries have announced plans to make alterations to the lineups and give little-used players a chance to prove themselves. Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto likely will let reserve Marco Urena head the team's attack, which could signal a rest is coming for star forward Joel Campbell. The Ticos no doubt want to keep their momentum going, stun a World Cup-winning nation and avoid Group C leader Colombia in the round of 16 but Campbell might not be necessary to accomplish that.

JC: We might get a glimpse -- but not too much because Roy Hodgson can't afford to lose -- of England's future. There's nothing left to play for, so why not? Wayne Rooney played well against Uruguay, while Luke Shaw surely has a bright future at left-back and Ross Barkley is the big young hope in central midfield. There might be some emotional farewells with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard likely playing their last games for England. But the young'uns could be England's X Factor.

Fear factor

ML: Wayne Rooney. The England superstar finally broke through for his first World Cup goal late in the match against Uruguay. Alas, it was all for nothing, as Luis Suarez struck again to topple the Three Lions 2-1. Sure, Rooney's goal was a simple tap-in -- and he's had some astonishing misses in the tournament -- but the Manchester United forward has reason to stay motivated in this match. If captain Gerrard retires after the World Cup, Rooney would be the No. 1 candidate to take the armband. He said he wants to restore some pride for England and bring some "nastiness" to the English game. He can lead by example by punishing Costa Rica.

JC: Joel Campbell. He's been bright, strong and full of pace. He's even done enough in Costa Rica's campaign to convince Arsenal to give him a chance in preseason. He was loaned to Olympiakos in 2013-14 and scored against Manchester United in the Champions League and now he's proving on the world stage that power and pace are so important to international football.

Key battle

ML: England's attack versus Keylor Navas. Apart from injuries, the only result that could be truly dreadful for Costa Rica is a lopsided loss that costs them the Group D top spot. The Ticos do not need to score goals to get the outcome they need from this match, but their stout back line and keeper must stay strong to avoid giving up group leadership to Italy or Uruguay. Daniel Sturridge is still very much a threat and Rooney should want a win badly. Navas will need to make some key saves to allow La Sele to close out the match as the deserved winners of Group D.

England's Phil Jagielka has been notably below par at this World Cup.

JC: Bryan Ruiz  vs. Phil Jagielka. Ruiz scored the biggest goal of his career when netting the winner against Italy, while Jagielka has much to prove after a disappointing World Cup. Ruiz was loaned by Fulham to PSV Eindhoven this past season and hasn't always fit into English football, with his movement good but his game a little too unpredictable. Despite that, Ruiz has managed to score two goals in the three games he has played against Jagielka, who has looked exposed at times in Brazil. The Everton defender's international class has been called into question, though missing the tail end of the season due to injury did not help his preparation for the tournament.

Prediction

ML: Costa Rica can't risk injury but must not lose their hold on Group D. England don't want to leave Brazil without any points but probably have neither the willpower nor the talent to blow out the Ticos. Let's call it a draw 1-1.

JC: Costa Rica to win 2-0. England will shuffle the pack and field a much changed team to make sure every member of the squad gets a chance in this campaign. But other than pride, England's mix-and-match team have little to play for.

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