Romelu Lukaku gave England something to think about as he warmed up for the World Cup with two goals in Belgium’s 4-1 win over Costa Rica.
Lukaku is finding some form ahead of the tournament in Russia which pits the Red Devils with England in Group G, adding a brace in Brussels to the goal he scored against Egypt last week.
That took his tally to 13 goals in the last nine international games, as he also provided an assist, and will be Belgium’s main threat in what should be the group decider against Gareth Southgate’s side on June 28.
Dries Mertens and Michy Batshuayi also scored for Roberto Martinez’s men after Bryan Ruiz had put Costa Rica ahead.
Belgium had created some early chances but it was the visitors who took a 24th minute lead.
Jan Vertonghen failed to get proper distance on a headed clearance and it fell to Ruiz, who sent a low first-time effort into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
The Red Devils’ response was swift, though, and after Mertens had gone close he finally levelled just after the half-hour.
This time it was Costa Rica that failed to clear properly and Eden Hazard’s ball across goal was tucked home from close range.
The turnaround was complete before half-time as Lukaku scored a brilliant goal.
Starting the move in his own half, the Manchester United forward fed Kevin De Bryune, who set Mertens free and he turned provider for Lukaku to volley home from close range.
Lukaku’s second came five minutes after the restart and it was classic Lukaku as he made sure he got on the end of Hazard’s cross to convert with his head.
The United man then turned provider in the 64th minute as his low ball was converted at the back post by Chelsea’s Batshuayi.
That proved to be enough for Martinez’s men as they signed off ahead of their World Cup opener with Panama next Monday.
Gareth Southgate has told England’s World Cup-bound squad to entertain the nation’s football fans during their time in Russia.
Southgate and his 23-man squad will fly from Birmingham on Tuesday afternoon, destined for their base camp in Repino – a low-key resort near the Gulf of Finland.
They do so in good spirits, with inter-camp harmony at a peak, no injuries to speak of and a pair of quietly encouraging friendly wins over Nigeria and Costa Rica to reflect on.
Southgate has made a big issue of winning back the hearts and minds of the country during his time in the job and believes his young, eager side are well on the way to achieving that aim.
All that is needed now is a tournament display that leaves fans cheering by their barbecues rather than crying into their beers.
“We hope we can send people to work the following day having enjoyed our matches, I know what those tournament experiences can be like and we desperately want to bring that,” he said.
“We know we are not the finished article, in fact we’re a long way from, but I think people see signs of progress and enjoy watching us and the manner in which we try to play.
“We are seeing a team that is enjoying each other’s company, getting on well, is very proud to represent the nation. They have some talent, have a real desire and determination to play for England.
“We ask people to pay a lot of money to watch football. In the end, we want to entertain where we possibly can.
“I’ve talked before about there being a disconnect between the supporters and the team and I’ve felt that there’s different ways to bridge that. The most important is the way you play, and your performances and your results.”
England wrapped up their St George’s Park camp preparations by staging an internal match on the Sir Bobby Charlton Pitch.
Referee Anthony Taylor officiated the match, which involved all 23 squad members and stand-by midfielder Jake Livermore.
Players switched between the teams that wore England’s white and black training tops, allowing Southgate to look at different combinations.
Their next session will be held at Spartak Zelenogorsk, a dedicated training base six miles from their ForRestMix Hotel.
England are not among the pre-tournament favourites, and are priced by the bookies to finish second in Group G behind Belgium, but several members of the squad have been bullish about their prospects of winning the trophy.
The World Cup is not only the biggest prize in football. It’s also a month-long shop window for the world’s best players.
With the transfer market open even as players compete for the famed Jules Rimet trophy, footballers catch the eye of clubs to earn headline-making moves. Some players, like Ronaldo in 2002 and Fabio Cannavaro in 2006, moved after successful World Cups having already established themselves at the top of their profession.
Others, however, move after bursting onto the scene at football’s biggest stage. Here are five such examples.
James Rodriguez had moved to Europe four seasons before World Cup 2014, playing at Porto for three years before making a huge transfer to Monaco in 2013. But no one could have predicted what happened next.
The Colombian scored six goals in Brazil, earning himself the tournament’s Golden Boot award – and no less a figure than Diego Maradona contended that he should have won the Golden Ball as well, ahead of Maradona’s compatriot Lionel Messi.
Real Madrid clearly agreed, signing Rodriguez for a reported fee of £63 million – the fourth-biggest transfer fee in history at the time.
Rodriguez stole the headlines at the 2014 World Cup but Toni Kroos won the prize that mattered most, with Germany being crowned champions after a dramatic final.
Kroos was instrumental in Die Mannschaft’s midfield that summer, recording four assists as he stood out among some talented attacking colleagues. He scored twice in Germany’s infamous 7-1 win over Brazil in the semi-final, when he was named man of the match.
His performances for a World Cup-winning side made him a priority signing for Real Madrid, who were looking to replace the aging Xabi Alonso. For a paltry £20m, the erstwhile Bayern Munich man was theirs.
Germany may have won the World Cup in 2014, but the seeds for that success were sown in the previous tournament, as their young brigade, Kroos included, led the team to the semi-finals and a third-place finish.
Mesut Ozil was viewed as the star of that side, scoring once and tallying three assists and catching the eye of Jose Mourinho, newly installed as Madrid manager at the time, and he duly made Ozil one of his first signings.
Arguably, Ozil has never been better than during his three-year spell at Madrid. At least, he was a much less polarising figure for his own team’s fans, unlike at Arsenal.
ANGEL DI MARIA
It’s clear that Real Madrid love making statement signings after the World Cup, casting their eye over the world’s best talents and then taking their pick.
In the same summer they signed Ozil, they also got Angel Di Maria, who had starred as part of a youthful Argentina side who had reached the quarter-finals – losing to Ozil’s Germany. He was Mourinho’s first signing for Madrid.
Di Maria would later make another post-World Cup move, joining Manchester United in 2014.
RAFAEL VAN DER VAART
Amid a raft of Real Madrid signings, here’s one who moved the other way after a World Cup. Van der Vaart had never really cut it at Santiago Bernabeu, enduring a couple of inconsistent seasons after joining in 2008.
But his performances at the 2010 World Cup, when he, alongside Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben – other failed Madrid signings – led the Netherlands to the final, catching the eye of Europe’s best clubs.
It was Tottenham who stole a march on everyone else, signing the Dutchman for an astonishingly low fee of £8m. No doubt Madrid were easily convinced to let him go after signing Ozil and Di Maria.