England will face Costa Rica in their final World Cup warm-up game in June after Gareth Southgate handpicked the Central American nation as perfect preparation for the Russia 2018 clash against Panama in Nizhny Novgorod.
Costa Rica topped England’s group at Brazil 2014, being held to a 0-0 draw by Roy Hodgson’s team in Belo Horizonte, before suffering a penalty shootout elimination against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals.
And with England due to face World Cup debutants Panama in their second Group G game on June 24, manager Southgate has secured a friendly against the Costa Ricans at Leeds United’s Elland Road stadium on June 7.
England will play two warm-up games in June before flying to Russia, with the Football Association also confirming a Wembley friendly against Nigeria on June 2.
The England manager said: “We’ve mostly played European opposition up to now and the Brazil game acted as a reminder that we need to challenge ourselves in different ways as a team.
“We’re going into a World Cup where we will play African and Central American opposition so we get that with the games against Nigeria and Costa Rica but it’s not just about the games we’ve got in the group but hopefully beyond that as well. We want to expose the team to different styles and different experiences.”
On playing at Elland Road, he added: “We’re immensely proud to play the majority of matches at Wembley as our national stadium and it’s always special. Equally, it’s nice when we have an opportunity to take the team on the road. We have a huge following in Yorkshire with large numbers of our members and travelling support coming from that area.”
Southgate’s team, who made it to the finals with an unbeaten record during the qualifying campaign, are due to play Netherlands in Amsterdam on March 27 before facing fellow World Cup absentees Italy at Wembley four days later.
Southgate had initially planned for three games in June prior to the squad’s departure for Russia, but sources have told ESPN FC that he has now settled on two fixtures in order to spend more time fine-tuning the team’s preparations at the National Football Centre at St George’s Park.
England, meanwhile, will discover their opponents in the inaugural UEFA Nations League when the draw is made for the tournament in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Jan. 24.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_