Costa Rica Sports – Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz has warned his international colleagues they will face a far stronger England team in Leeds than the one they met at the 2014 World Cup.
Los Ticos, who defeated Northern Ireland 3-0 in San Jose on Sunday, will provide the opposition for the Three Lions in their final game before they depart for Russia.
It is a repeat of a World Cup group contest in Belo Horizonte four years ago when England, already eliminated from the competition, lost to a Costa Rican side that advanced to the quarter-finals.
Only three of the England players that featured that day – Gary Cahill, Phil Jones and Raheem Sterling – are in Gareth Southgate’s current group and Ruiz expects a tougher assignment at Elland Road.
“I think they are much better than they were four years ago,” Ruiz told Press Association Sport.
“It’s going to be a very good game for us. Hopefully we are going to get a good result and good things from that game.”
Costa Rica were the surprise package of the last World Cup, beating Uruguay and Italy and only exiting after a penalty shoot-out loss to Holland.
They impressed in their victory over the Northern Irish at the weekend too – joining Germany and Croatia as the only two nations to have beaten Michael O’Neill’s men by more than a solitary goal since November 2014.
However, Ruiz is expecting it to be even harder for his country to progress out of a 2018 World Cup group that features Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia.
“It’s going to be more difficult this time, I think,” Ruiz argued.
“Our group is very similar. We are going to take Brazil out of that similar group because Brazil is very good.
“It’s going to be difficult for us but it’s very important to win that first game against Serbia.”
Ruiz will be expected to feature in Leeds having been an unused substitute against Northern Ireland.
That fixture did still allow him a chance to catch up with his former Fulham colleague Aaron Hughes, a player who is contemplating whether to call it a day this summer.
“I spoke to him, it was nice to see him again,” Ruiz revealed.
“I don’t know if he feels physically good to continue but he played very well – 90 minutes in that weather, I think it’s a good sign for him.
“I hope he continues playing because he’s a great player, and as a person he’s a great person.
“We swapped shirts and I’m grateful to him for swapping shirts with me.”
From the Belfast Telegraph