Rashford stunner sends England on way with spring in their step

Gareth Southgate’s team showed admirable energy in winning final warm-up game

England’s Marcus Rashford (left) and Costa Rica’s Celso Borges battle for the ball during the International Friendly match at Elland Road on Thursday evening. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

England’s Marcus Rashford (left) and Costa Rica’s Celso Borges battle for the ball during the International Friendly match at Elland Road on Thursday evening. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

 

England 2 Costa Rica 0

These are the moments when it is probably wise to remember – this being England, after all– that it is never sensible to overdose on optimism before a World Cup actually starts. Yet there are at least grounds for positivity and increasingly there is a sense that Gareth Southgate’s players are high on confidence, capable of putting together some vibrant football and not showing any obvious signs of the end-of-season fatigue that has weighed them down before major tournaments in the past.

They fly to their base in Repino, on the Gulf of Finland, next Tuesday and Southgate is entitled to be encouraged after another satisfying win that will be remembered mostly for the spectacular first-half goal with which Marcus Rashford made it clear he was determined to press for a starting place when England arrive in Russia.

When Rashford can score goals of this brilliance it is tempting to argue that Southgate must find a way to shoehorn him into the team. The reality, however, is that by the time England are ready to begin the tournament against Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday week it could conceivably be that only John Stones from this starting line-up will be among Southgate’s first-team picks.

Jordan Henderson, who captained the side in Harry Kane’s absence and played with considerable authority, is another one with strong credentials to believe that is not necessarily the case. Yet Henderson will have to remove Eric Dier from the holding midfield role if the Liverpool player is to start against Tunisia and, however much Southgate talked about places being up for grabs, the likelihood is that the players he selected in the 2-1 win against Nigeria last Saturday will, on the whole, be the ones that begin in the World Cup.

At the very least, however, Rashford has reminded the England manager that, on form, he is capable of producing moments of rare quality. Rashford was nearly 30 yards out when he took aim for his 13th-minute goal and it was from the kind of angle and distance that would have put off many players in the same position.

His contact with the ball was delivered in a way that many players have copied from Cristiano Ronaldo, striking over the shot and applying power, first and foremost, but in a way deliberately designed to make the shot dip like a beach ball in the final part of the trajectory.

This one was aimed diagonally, right to left, and started off so high it gave the goalkeeper, Keylor Navas, no chance of reaching it. The ball finished in the top right-hand corner of the net and the Leeds supporters in the Don Revie Stand who had booed Rashford’s name when the teams were read out – along with that of Phil Jones, another Manchester United player – changed their tune for the remainder of the evening.

Rashford had shown early on that he was in the mood, eluding one of the Costa Rica centre-halves, Kendall Waston, with a lovely piece of deception on the byline, but he was not the only England player to catch the eye.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s link-up play was another prominent feature and Trent Alexander-Arnold acquitted himself well on his debut, operating as a right-sided wing-back.

Fabian Delph, a more accomplished player than many people appear to realise, looked comfortable occupying a more advanced midfield role than his usual position at Manchester City and Danny Rose was another of England’s impressive performers. Rose, one of five Yorkshiremen in Southgate’s starting XI, had looked rusty when he started the friendly against the Netherlands in March. This was much better from the Tottenham player and a reminder that he should be regarded as a strong challenger for what is currently Ashley Young’s position as the first-choice left-back.

Costa Rica are 23rd in Fifa’s world rankings – only 11 places back from England – but they were overwhelmed by the energy of their opponents in the first half. It was a tepid display from los Ticos and, unlike in the Nigeria game, Southgate’s men did not relinquish their superiority after the interval.

Their only disappointment, perhaps, was that they could not conjure more clear-cut chances bearing in mind they had so much of the ball. Henderson let fly with a 20-yard effort shortly before the hour and Harry Maguire’s header from the resultant corner was cleared off the goal-line.

Jamie Vardy found it difficult, however, to impress. The Leicester striker managed only eight touches in the opening half and was substituted after 61 minutes. He could not take his best chance with a spinning close-range effort and, by the end of the night, he might have been forgiven for wondering if he had fallen behind Rashford in the pecking order.

Southgate gave Nick Pope, England’s third-choice goalkeeper, his international debut as a substitute for Jack Butland in the second half and Danny Welbeck, the only outfield player not to start either of the past two warm-up matches, was also brought on. Welbeck had been on a quarter of an hour when Dele Alli, another substitute, picked him out in the six-yard area. Rashford was also involved in the move and Welbeck doubled England’s lead with a stooping header from close range. - Guardian service

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