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Chris Birchall
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PORT Vale's World Cup veteran Chris Birchall will be watching with interest this afternoon as England try to end a poor campaign on a winning note when they take on surprise Group D leaders Costa Rica.

Birchall played against England in the 2006 World Cup for Trinidad, having qualified because his mum, Jenny, was born on the Caribbean island.

He has regularly played against Costa Rica in CONCACAF (North and Central America and Caribbean) qualifying games, but is still surprised to see them top of a group which features three former World Cup winners – England, Italy and Uruguay.

The 30-year-old midfielder said: "Not many people would have predicted that England would go into this game bottom of the group with Costa Rica top, but I have played against Costa Rica a few times and we always went into those matches knowing they were very well organised.

"They might not have the stand out players of other teams, but they play as a team. I still think England will win, and maybe the fact there is no pressure on them will help, but this is still going to be a tricky game.

"In the CONCACAF region and South America, you do get teams that are very fit and physical. As long as they get 10 men behind the ball then they are hard to break down, and they can hit you on the counter attack.

"Costa Rica won't have surprised themselves with how well they have done, even though they have surprised everyone else."

Meanwhile, former LA Galaxy player Birchall is pleased to see the United States doing well in Brazil, and is not surprised to see the game's growing popularity in the USA.

The Americans are the second-best supported team in Brazil after the host nation. Their fans bought 196,838 tickets, while Argentina supporters bought the third largest number with 61,021. Germany were fourth with 58,778 and England fifth with 57,917.

When a US side featuring Stoke City's Geoff Cameron drew 2-2 with Portugal on Sunday, crowds back home included 20,000 fans watching the match at an open air fans' park in Chicago.

Birchall added: "I watched the USA v Portugal game with my brother and said there was no way the USA would lose... just before Portugal scored early on.

"But the USA got going then and played some good stuff the longer the game went on. They were a little unlucky not to win.

"I have played against them six or seven times, so know how strong they are, but that is against weaker nations. But they usually do well in World Cups too, and I still think they will get through their group.

"In the USA, 'soccer' club games can attract 30,000 or even 50,000 people.

"The media attention compared to their other sports is small, but the football team has always been well supported."