England 2 Costa Rica 0: Impressive World Cup warm-up win
- Credit: PA
Marcus Rashford’s stunning strike set England on course for a winning World Cup send-off as Gareth Southgate’s much-changed side produced a controlled performance against Costa Rica.
Just 11 days before their Group G opener against Tunisia, Thursday’s sold-out Elland Road friendly was the last chance for the Three Lions to fine-tune before departing for Russia.
Southgate made widespread alterations in a bid to test his options and for the most part was rewarded with an encouraging display, with Rashford superbly opening the scoring before Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck came off the bench to secure a 2-0 win against underwhelming Costa Rica.
It would have been more had the Three Lions showed a cutting edge, but there was far more to shout about in comparison to the countries’ last meeting at the World Cup four years ago.
Roy Hodgson’s already-eliminated side brought the curtain down on their dreadful finals foray with a lifeless goalless draw in Belo Horizonte.
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Just five members from the squad in Brazil are heading to this summer’s finals, with Southgate favouring promise over experience.
This is a fresh group bursting with potential and Rashford is among the contenders to star judging by this audition in West Yorkshire, where a superb 25-yard opener crowned a fine performance,
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The Manchester United forward was particularly impressive in the first half, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek another fringe players to sparkle in the first period of a match that tailed off after the break.
But England never looked in danger of throwing away their lead and substitute Welbeck headed home to seal victory against the 2014 World Cup’s surprise package.
Only John Stones kept his place in the side that started Saturday’s 2-1 friendly win against Nigeria – one of five Yorkshiremen in the line-up as England headed on the road for the first time since 2016.
Excitement about the Three Lions’ first visit to Leeds in 16 years was palpable and only fuelled by building World Cup anticipation.
The Elland Road crowd chanted “football’s coming home” in a bright start punctuated by flashes of impressive team interplay and skill.
Rashford’s ‘flip-flap’ was among those moments of excitement and earned an eighth-minute corner from which Phil Jones sent a looping header that was tipped over by Costa Rica’s star man Keylor Navas.
However, Real Madrid’s Champions League-winning goalkeeper could only watch in wonderment in the 13th minute as the ball flew in.
Looking as confident as he appeared determined to impress, Rashford underlined his credentials with a stunning, dipping strike that beat Navas from 25 yards.
The spectacular attempt had England fans on their feet, with the 20-year-old lapping up the applause from the Leeds fans who had reminded him of his Manchester United connections before kick-off.
Navas spread himself well to deny Jamie Vardy from close range as England threatened a quickfire second, with Jack Butland, widely-expected to be back-up to Jordan Pickford, springing into action to deny Johan Venegas.
It was Costa Rica’s only threat in a dominant first-half display by England.
Southgate’s men bossed possession as Loftus-Cheek and Leeds academy graduate Fabian Delph impressed in midfield, with debutant Trent Alexander-Arnold holding his own as right-back.
Liverpool team-mate Jordan Henderson joined the teenager in the starting line-up and saw a thumping effort denied by Navas, before Bryan Oviedo hacked off the line as Harry Maguire met the resulting corner with a header.
Loftus-Cheek dragged wide from distance before goalkeeper Nick Pope came on for his debut among a swathe of England alterations.
Kieran Tripper was amongst them and sent a free-kick just wide, with Danny Rose – the subject of so much pre-match attention after speaking candidly about his depression – directed into the side netting.
England were on top without exerting too much pressure and got the second they deserved in the 76th minute.
Rashford played in Dele Alli and his low cross found fellow substitute Welbeck at the far post.
England were unable to find a way to add a third but emerged victorious – and seemingly without injury.