Marcus Rashford’s dream season transfers to international stage
Manchester United striker scores with his first shot on England debut against Australia
Marcus Rashford celebrates after scoring on his England debut in the friendly international against Australia at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland. Photograph: Ed Sykes/Action Images via Reuters/Livepic
England 2 Australia 0
For Marcus Rashford, it was another occasion to add to his increasingly impressive portfolio of outstanding moments. Rashford had scored before any of the players had a single scuff of mud on their kits. In the process, he became the youngest scoring debutant in England’s history and, of most significance, a boy who started the season in Manchester United’s under-18s might well have secured a place in Roy Hodgson’s squad for Euro 2016.
Hodgson is certainly not short of attacking options bearing in mind his team’s latest victory came on a night when Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy were both excused duty. Wayne Rooney showed some refined touches after coming on for the second half, including a thumping shot to score for the 52nd time in England’s colours, and Raheem Sterling’s confidence should be lifted by the fact he set up both of England’s goals before Eric Dier inadvertently helped out Australia with a spectacular own goal.
Yet there was no doubt about the identity of the game’s headline maker bearing in mind Rashford’s expertly taken goal barely a couple of minutes into an evening that must have left Daniel Sturridge with plenty to ponder. Hodgson has to whittle down his squad to 23 by Tuesday and Sturridge’s position has to be in doubt when his fitness is so questionable and especially now Rashford has shown he can fill in seamlessly.
Rashford played like a man – or, more accurately, a teenager – who was in a hurry to make his point and, on this evidence, it is going to be difficult in the extreme for Hodgson to exclude him from the final cut. Tommy Lawton was 19 years and 16 days when he scored on his England debut in October 1938. Rashford, at 18 years and 208 days, has broken a 77-year record and there was a lovely moment, straight after the goal, when the cameras panned to Wayne Rooney in the dugout and it was a sunrise of a smile on the face of England’s most experienced player. Rooney could not conceal his delight – in stark contrast to the body language of Daniel Sturridge with his hood up, pulled low, reflecting on his latest injury setback.
Rashford’s contribution was also a neat way of getting in his retaliation first bearing in mind the chants in support of Jermain Defoe that could be heard from the locals during parts of the night. Rashford was still some way behind Bill Nicholson’s record, set in 1951, for scoring 19 seconds into his England debut but, more importantly, the new kid on the block reiterated in these moments that he is not fazed easily. He has now scored with his first shot in the Europa League, his first in the Premier League and his first at international level, all within a 92-day period.
It was not all perfect and Hodgson will not have missed the moment, for example, when England broke from their own half only for Rashford’s touch to let him down when he had the chance to hare clear. Yet he could probably be forgiven bearing in mind what happened in England’s first meaningful attack of the night.
The move started from the left-back position, with Ryan Bertrand advancing from defence then playing a low pass into Rashford’s path. Rashford turned it on for Sterling, to his left, then moved purposefully into the penalty area. Sterling’s deflected off the nearest defender, Bailey Wright, and looped into the air. Rashford kept his eyes on it all the way, waiting for the ball to drop, then pulled back his right foot and let fly with a precise volley.
Australia, 50th in Fifa’s world rankings, continued to look vulnerable in defence and their goalkeeper, Mathew Ryan, spared them from going further behind before half-time with a fine one-handed save to turn away Jordan Henderson’s goalbound shot after Bertrand had rolled a free-kick into the Liverpool midfielder’s path.
There were, however, imperfections in England’s first-half system with a midfield diamond. Hodgson had asked Jack Wilshere to operate in the deepest position in front of the team’s defence and perhaps it might have worked better if Danny Drinkwater had taken that role. Instead, Drinkwater was operating in a left-sided position that is not really his forte. Henderson was to his right, looking eager to impress, and Adam Lallana had the No10 role until Rooney replaced him at half-time and England switched to a 4-3-3 formation, with Rashford and Sterling moving into slightly wider positions.
James Milner also came on for the second half, with Hodgson keen not to over-exert Wilshere, and that meant Drinkwater could take the role where he has excelled for Leicester City. Yet England had chosen moderate opponents. Ten minutes into the second half, Henderson moved the ball through the left-hand channel from midfield. Rashford let it run to Sterling and suddenly Australia were stretched again. Rooney was waiting in the middle and England’s record scorer had the time to pick his spot with a powerful drive that was still rising as it hit the net.
The ovation for Rashford when he was taken off among the extensive second-half substitutions told another story. Worryingly for England, Chris Smalling seemed to have taken a knock before he was removed. Dier took over in defence but his own goal, a diving header from an otherwise routine cross, was an inauspicious contribution.