Tournament sensations Costa Rica drew 0-0 with England in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday to top World Cup Group D unbeaten and leave their winless opponents at the bottom of the table.
The Central American outsiders had already defied the tag of minnows to record stunning wins over Uruguay and Italy, taking them into the last 16 for the first time since their maiden World Cup in 1990.
The draw against England allowed them to secure first place, while Uruguay seized second spot with a 1-0 win against 10-man Italy in Natal.
“We’re very satisfied,” Costa Rica’s Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto said. “England are one of the main teams in the world. They’re real champions, so we know it’d be a difficult game. We were able to get a point.”
“I thought it was a very even game. We have proved we can play good football and this makes me feel proud,” Pinto said.
Sixty-four years on from their humiliating 1-0 loss to the US in the city, a youthful and much-changed England side were unable to restore pride after their earliest World Cup exit since 1958.
Manager Roy Hodgson made nine changes to his starting XI, notably handing first competitive starts to 18-year-old Luke Shaw and 20-year-old Ross Barkley, but his side labored in the Estadio Mineirao sunshine.
However, Hodgson struck an upbeat note, saying: “Apart from the first 10 to 12 minutes, we dominated totally. We didn’t take our goal chances. If we did, we would have comfortably won. We created the chances, and that’s important.”
“I thought we were really unlucky not to win this game. I thought the whole back four was absolutely excellent. We restricted the team to almost no chances. In midfield we dominated and outplayed them,” Hodgson said.
Further emphasizing the mood of change for England, Frank Lampard captained the team and Steven Gerrard came on for what are likely to have been their final international appearances. However, the day belonged to Costa Rica.
Pinto’s side had already qualified thanks to their wins over Uruguay and Italy and they can now look forward to a last-16 encounter with Greece, whose group concluded on Tuesday.
With Prince Harry, fourth-in-line to the British throne, watching from the stands, England looked to make an aggressive start, but it was Costa Rica who threatened first.
Arsenal forward Joel Campbell’s 20m dig took a deflection off Gary Cahill that sent it fractionally wide of the right-hand post, but no corner was awarded.
Some of Costa Rica’s interchanges conveyed the exuberance of a team riding the crest of a wave, but England began to make inroads, with Daniel Sturridge curling narrowly wide and thrashing a long-ranger off-target.
Celso Borges then came within inches of putting Costa Rica ahead, only for England goalkeeper Ben Foster — making a first competitive start since 2009 — to brilliantly touch the 25m free-kick onto the bar.
England finished the first half brightly, Sturridge heading over and Barkley blasting wide, but there was little tempo to the game.
The torpor persisted in the second period, and England’s technical deficiencies continuing to dog them, with Sturridge’s poor first touch after a Shaw shot had ricocheted into his path allowing Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas to make a brave save.
When England belatedly produced a moment of quality, Sturridge initiating a smart one-two with Jack Wilshere, the Liverpool striker could only bend the ball wide from 10m
Hodgson sent on Raheem Sterling, Gerrard and Wayne Rooney as the game drifted toward its conclusion.
Rooney saw a characteristic chip touched over the bar by Navas, but there was to be no late salvo from England, whose frustrated fans had to be subdued by riot police as the final whistle neared.
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