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Monday, 17 December, 2018

In-form Jamie Vardy could give England a winning World Cup send-off

Jack Butland set to start in goal

England's Jamie Vardy celebrates his opener against Italy
1 of 1

International friendly
ITV, 8pm Thursday

The ghost of World Cup failures past will be haunting Elland Road as England's preparations for the finals in Russia conclude with a friendly fixture against Costa Rica.

The Ticos famously beat Uruguay and Italy and held England to a 0-0 draw in Brazil four years ago as the Three Lions ended up bottom of their group.

Costa Rica arrive in Leeds buoyed by recent friendly wins over Scotland (1-0) and Northern Ireland (3-0) but are 9-1 to claim the scalp of another home nation as Gareth Southgate's men bid to build on last week's Wembley win over 2-1 Nigeria.

Southgate is unlikely to get too funky with his selection and tactics although Liverpool's Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold should start after being rested against Nigeria.

Jordan Pickford is long odds-on to start the opening World Cup game against Tunisia but Jack Butland may be given the gloves for at least part of the Costa Rica clash and Jamie Vardy is set to be unleashed up front.

The Ticos have been mixing in modest company in World Cup qualifying and the Concacaf Gold Cup and they were thumped 5-0 by Spain in a friendly in November.

England fans won't be expecting anything so expansive although there were plenty of attacking positives from the first-half display against Nigeria.

Having scored just four goals in their previous six internationals, England eased into a 2-0 lead by half-time at Wembley with Raheem Sterling, in a more advanced role, contributing to some slick attacking moves.

A Gary Cahill header and a Harry Kane shot, assisted by some sloppy goalkeeping, put England in charge although Nigeria hit back through Alex Iwobi soon after the break.

England's intensity levels may well drop again once substitutions start to affect the game in the second half but Vardy, who didn't feature against Nigeria, will be keen to press his claims for a big role in Russia.

The Leicester striker bagged a smartly taken opener in the March friendly against Italy, taking his international tally to seven goals in 21 caps.

Vardy has also scored against European superpowers Germany, Spain and Holland, as well as Wales at Euro 2016, and he signed off a successful Premier League season with a Wembley brace against Tottenham.

He notched 13 times in his last 17 club appearances of the campaign and should trouble a Costa Rica side acclimatising to the European leg of their World Cup build-up.

They face England's group rivals Belgium on Monday and their form has tailed off since taking four points against the USA and Mexico in last September's qualifiers.

Costa Rica's qualifying campaign ended with a home draw with the Honduras and a defeat in Panama, since when they have also lost 1-0 in friendlies against Hungary and Tunisia.

Their run to the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup was based on a spectacular defensive effort in front of star goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who conceded only two goals in five games – two of which went to extra-time.

Those standards are bound to drop in a non-competitive fixture and Russia-bound England should be confident of leaving Leeds with a spring in their step.

J Vardy first goalscorer
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Team news
Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold could start after being rested against Nigeria. Jack Butland and Jamie Vardy are also likely to feature from the off.

Costa Rica
Marco Urena is in the squad despite suffering a facial fracture. Captain Bryan Ruiz should be recalled to the starting line-up.

Key stat
Both teams have scored in three of Costa Rica’s last 12 internationals.

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The Ticos have been mixing in modest company in World Cup qualifying and the Concacaf Gold Cup and they were thumped 5-0 by Spain
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