England will continue their preparations for the World Cup with another warm-up friendly, this time against Costa Rica – who are also getting ready for the tournament – on Thursday night. Gareth Southgate’s side welcomed Nigeria to Wembley at the weekend, when first-half goals from Chelsea centre-back Gary Cahill and Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane earned a 2-1 victory.
England were impressive in the first period, spending the majority of the opening 45 minutes in the visitors’ half of the field as they moved the ball around with confidence and composure. Nigeria halved the deficit through Arsenal forward Alex Iwobi shortly after the restart and fashioned a few more chances as they sought an equaliser, but England did enough to close the game out and hold on for the 2-1 win.
There were several positive signs and some insight for soccer betting fans to take from the match, even if England’s status in the overall ranking of World Cup nations has not changed following a narrow victory in a home friendly. There is a welcome freshness and vibrancy to this Three Lions team, and their sharp passing and movement in the first half on Saturday will no doubt have pleased Southgate and his coaching staff.
England were no doubt aided by the fact their opponents did not really get going until after the interval, but their ability to break down a side who looked to play on the back foot – a similar challenge to the one that will face them in group stage clashes with Tunisia and Panama – bodes well for the more important tasks ahead.
Southgate employed a 3-5-2 formation from the start on Saturday, with Kane partnered up top by Raheem Sterling. He could shift shape to more of a 3-4-2-1 this time around, with the former Under-21 manager likely to give a run-out to some of those players who began the Nigeria game on the substitutes’ bench.
Liverpool duo Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold were permitted additional time off following their club side’s run to the Champions League final but both men will expect to start here, with Eric Dier and Kieran Trippier set to make way. Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek will also hope for a chance to shine from the first whistle, while Harry Maguire could return to the back three in place of either Cahill, John Stones or Kyle Walker.
Costa Rica have been drawn alongside Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia in Russia, where they are highly unlikely to match their 2014 achievement of advancing all the way to the quarter-finals (Jorge Luis Pinto’s charges were just a penalty shoot-out away from making it through to the last four).
There is a feeling that Los Ticos have regressed in the four years since the competition in Brazil, but it is worth bearing in mind that they were widely written off back then after being drawn in a group alongside England, Italy and Uruguay – so it is not beyond the realms of possibility that they could spring another surprise this summer, perhaps starting with Thursday’s clash at Elland Road.
Goalkeeper Keylor Navas is Costa Rica’s star man, and he could be in for a busy night in Leeds. Defenders Cristian Gamboa (Celtic) and Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland) are the two UK-based players in Oscar Ramirez’s 23-man squad, while attacking pair Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell will also be familiar to English audiences due to their previous associations with Fulham and Arsenal respectively.
The Central Americans tend to line up in a 3-5-2 formation which often becomes a 5-3-2 when their opponents dominate possession, which England are likely to do here, as is evidenced by the 3/10 for them to win the match outright at top soccer betting sites.
Although Costa Rica performed well in a comfortable 3-0 defeat of Northern Ireland last time out, this will probably be a straightforward evening for the hosts. England will look to start quickly and much could depend on whether they make the breakthrough early on, but the dynamism and precision with which they attacked on Saturday could result in another early goal if they replicate that display at Elland Road.
Karamba offer 7/4 on a goal being scored between the 16th and 30th minutes, while the same bookmakers’ price of 4/5 on over 2.5 in total also looks tempting.
As far as an anytime goalscorer is concerned, Jamie Vardy (5/2 at Ladbrokes) is an enticing option. Southgate will surely want to hand the Leicester striker a substantial amount of minutes, and his underrated penalty-box finishing could see him get his name on the scoresheet for the eighth time as a senior England international.