Marcus Rashford shines against Costa Rica to give England manager Gareth Southgate a World Cup headache

 
Frank Dalleres
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England v Costa Rica - International Friendly
Rashford's display threatens Raheem Sterling's starting place (Source: Getty)

It took Marcus Rashford just seven minutes to show he was in the mood on Thursday night, the Manchester United forward beating Costa Rica defender Kendall Waston with a piece of skill that Ronaldinho would have been proud of.

Five minutes later he had underlined his brimming confidence levels with a howitzer of a shot that whistled past Keylor Navas and set England on their way to a 2-0 victory in their final friendly before departing for the World Cup in Russia next week.

The question for Gareth Southgate as he ponders the opening group match against Tunisia on 18 June is whether he must now rethink his favoured starting XI and find a way to accommodate the prodigious, jet-heeled striker.

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Behind Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling in the pecking order, Rashford had seemingly been earmarked for the role of impact substitute at the World Cup; a shot in the arm of lightning pace when England run out of zip.

But at Elland Road against a Costa Rica team all too happy to amass a 10-man barricade in front of Navas, the 20-year-old demonstrated how effective he could be from the first whistle and when dropping deep to collect the ball and run at opponents.

In one eye-catching play, his direct dribbling drew no fewer than five of the visiting team towards him. Another saw him attempt to nutmeg left-back Francisco Calvo with a caress of his right instep.

By then, though, he had already established that this was to be one of his demonstrations in audacity.

Rashford’s eighth-minute dribble past Waston was a thing of wonder; its true majesty only revealed by replays. It was his goal, however, that will make his claims for a starting place harder to ignore for Southgate.

Little threat was evident when he received possession 30 yards out, not too far from the right touchline. With little apparent hesitation, he turned to face goal and ripped a ferocious effort that embarrassed Real Madrid goalkeeper Navas.

“What pleased me most is that he enjoyed his football tonight and he played with a real swagger,” said the England manager.

“I thought his linking was good, his individuality and running at people and taking people on in and around the penalty area was good, and of course it was a wonderful strike for the goal. And he worked very hard for the team to press and shut down.

“He had a difficult end to the season, having to play no his own as a No9 at times. He’s still filling out, he’s still growing. We often forget how young he is. Today he had that exuberance and was teasing defenders.”

His effervescent display was all the more remarkable considering his recent adversity at club level -- he scored just four goals after the turn of the year -- and the withering criticism from United manager Jose Mourinho.

It also reflects well on Southgate, who appears to have loosened his squad from the shackles of anxiety and suffocating expectation. Whisper it, but there is a sense of happiness around the national team that has been conspicuously absent under previous regimes.

If there is one player sleeping a little less easily then it may be Sterling, whose place looks most at risk from Rashford’s late charge. The Manchester City forward has often carried the fight for England, but his finishing is lacking.

Jamie Vardy, on paper perhaps the most in-form of England’s forward players, laboured here, perhaps because deep-lying opponents offered little opportunity to showcase his ability to play on the shoulder of the last defender.

His best chance came when Harry Maguire’s flick-on wouldn’t come down quickly enough, allowing Navas to rush off his line and smother the Leicester man’s point-blank volley.

Vardy’s replacement Danny Welbeck fared better, scoring England’s second goal with a diving header from fellow substitute Dele Alli’s clipped cross.

Southgate gambled by making nine changes from Saturday’s win over Nigeria -- widely believed to be his first XI -- but there were several thought-provoking displays.

Danny Rose and debutant Trent Alexander-Arnold shone in the wing-back roles, utility man Fabian Delph was a tireless presence in midfield and, while starved of saves to make, Jack Butland was a composed presence in goal.

It was Rashford’s night, though. The debate over whether he or Sterling should start in the No10 role against Tunisia looks sure to dominate the next week. “If it’s complicated it [selection], it’s in a really good way,” said a coy Southgate. Over to you, Gareth.