In Brief

World Cup: has Marcus Rashford played his way into England’s starting XI?

Striker scores a world-class goal as England beat Costa Rica in final warm-up game

England 2 Costa Rica 0

World Cup warm-up matches are rarely thrilling encounters and the closer they are to the tournament the more cautious the players are. After all, who wants to get injured on the eve of football’s greatest spectacle?

So it was that England defeated Costa Rica 2-0 last night at Elland Road in a game that rarely came to life. The highlight was Marcus Rashford’s stunning strike on 13 minutes, the Manchester United forward picking the ball up outside the visitors’ area and lashing a thunderbolt into the back of the net that left keeper Keylor Navas stunned.

Substitute Danny Welbeck added a second on 76 minutes when he got his head to Dele Alli’s cross and so England head to Russia with a 100% record from their warm-up matches, having beaten Nigeria on Saturday.

How much will Gareth Southgate have learned from the games? Nothing that the England manager didn’t already know.

What he and the fans will only discover in Russia, when the Three Lions open their campaign against Tunisia on 18 June, is whether this young generation of players can handle the pressure of tournaments in a way so many of their predecessors couldn’t.

In both 2010 and 2014 England went to the World Cup unbeaten in their pre-tournament friendlies, only to wilt under the harsh glare of competition.

Will the class of 2018 also crumble mentally?

Risk-takers

Southgate doesn’t believe that will happen. “Everyone knew their roles and the collective effort of the group shows a really good mentality,” said the England boss, who praised his team’s approach.

“I said to all the team before the game, I expect to see mistakes and, if I don’t, there might be a problem because we wouldn’t be being as attack-minded as we want to be.

“They are going to make errors, but by taking risks they show the glimpses of quality like Marcus’s opening goal.”

Competition for places

Southgate described Rashford’s strike as “world-class”, and added: “Rashford played with a real swagger tonight… his performance wasn’t perfect, but he was enjoying his football and that was good to see.

“I have 11 or 12 who are going to be difficult to leave out. There is genuine competition for places. It wasn’t the first team versus Nigeria and a second team tonight: we have quality across the two line-ups.

“There are some serious decisions to take, but in a really good way. If I was thinking I have no one to play in this position or in that position, it would be a very different situation.”

Ruben too raw?

Aside from Rashford, other players who impressed the Elland Road crowd were Danny Rose, who was aggressive going forward, and 22-year-old Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who showed composure beyond his years, even if Southgate believes he is still too inexperienced at this level.

“It’s still early for him,” he said. “He’s still learning the game really, even as an England international, as he has so few league appearances under his belt and is incredibly raw. But we believe in him. We know the talent he has. You can see the ability he has to hold people off, his speed of feet and the strength when he is running with the ball. A super talent.”

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