MANAGER Roy Hodgson has challenged Ross Barkley and Jack Wilshere to prove England have a bright future ahead of them after their World Cup shambles.
Having been eliminated last Friday after two straight defeats, England’s final Group D match against Costa Rica is a dead rubber.
Hodgson admits the realisation that he had led England to their fastest World Cup exit had thrown him into “a realm of despair”.
That dismay will only increase today if England are defeated by Costa Rica who, despite holding a 100 per cent record in Brazil, sit below Scotland in the FIFA rankings.
Barkley, 20, and 22-year-old Wilshere will begin in the centre of midfield in the Estadio Mineirao.
The duo have just 12 starts between them, but they are likely to be part of England’s re-building process, particularly if Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard retire from international duty after the Costa Rica game.
“I’m looking for them to show their talent,” the England manager said.
“Both of them are very good passers of the ball, very good at running with the ball.
“Both, for young players, have good vision for the game. That will improve the more games they play, but they’re well advanced for their age.
“This is a chance for them to show they are good players.
“They have an opportunity to play from the start, and together in a game with other young players around them.
“They can show the faith and hope we have that those boys are ready to make their mark.
“This could be the first moment they give us an inkling that we are on the right track.”
Hodgson thinks the nine players drafted into the XI all have a chance to impress.
“It’s a great opportunity for these players,” he said.
“I’m handing them an opportunity to go out on a fantastic stage and show they’re not only players of potential, but they are ready to play on this stage now and won’t let the team down.”
With nothing but pride to play for in Belo Horizonte, Hodgson decided to name his team on the eve of the match.
Ben Foster will start in goal behind a back four of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill and Luke Shaw; the latter will become the youngest player to appear in this World Cup.
Lampard, captain for the night, will sit in front of the back four.
Barkley and Wilshere will play in central midfield, with Adam Lallana and James Milner on the flanks.
Daniel Sturridge will start his third straight match up front, meaning there are nine changes in total.
Hodgson is grateful to have received the backing of the Football Association, who will not sack the England boss even if the team lose today.
He is also glad to have received the support of England fans in Brazil.
“We’re very conscious that our fans are as disappointed and devastated as we are, and still supporting us,” Hodgson said.
“We had kind words and sympathy (from some of them) in the hotel, and we want to make certain they see something (today) that they can take some encouragement from.”
There may be nothing riding on the game, but Hodgson insists England will not be taking it lightly.
“It’s a top-ranked international on the biggest stage, so anything else than taking the game very seriously and trying to win the game in its own right would be out of the question,” the former Liverpool manager said.
“This is a game against the top team in the group, the team who have exceeded all expectations with their results and the quality of their football.
“We have to show we can compete with this team, and it’s a chance to show our fans that we still have a lot of pride in our performance.”
Even if England win, Hodgson concedes it will be hard for him to raise his spirits after the events of the last fortnight.
He said: “From this tournament, I’ve realised that, at this top level in a World Cup, it’s unforgiving. A moment really of sheer misfortune can throw everyone into a realm of despair that you didn’t know was possible.
“(Today’s) game will tell me a lot about the players. It’s been a very tough few days and it’s hard to pick yourselves up for a game that, even if you do well in, serves no purpose.”
Hodgson confirmed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee) and Leighton Baines (hamstring) are unavailable for the match.