Marcus Rashford is aiming high ahead of his first World Cup – and why shouldn’t he be, after stealing the show in England’s final warm-up game against Costa Rica.
Everyone is talking about the United forward after he lit up what is enemy territory for the Reds – Leeds United’s Elland Road home – with an absolute rocket of a strike on Thursday night.
Picking up the ball from Ruben Loftus-Cheek around 25 yards from goal, Marcus only had one thought in mind, taking one touch before unleashing a stunning right-foot effort which flew past Keylor Navas into the top corner to give England a 13th-minute lead.
Operating in a no.10 role, the 20-year-old was the shining light throughout and was heavily involved in the well-worked move which led to Tottenham’s Dele Alli crossing for former United striker Danny Welbeck to seal a dominant 2-0 victory for Gareth Southgate’s side.
Unsurprisingly, Rashford’s influential and vibrant display was crowned by being named the official Man of the Match, and he has undoubtedly given the manager a positive selection headache ahead of what will be our no.19’s second major international tournament, having featured at Euro 2016 just four months after breaking into United’s first team.
The Mancunian was understandably delighted to get on the scoresheet in some style and has ambitions to play a major role in Russia for his country.
“You work on them [goals] in training every day and, when one comes up in a game it’s a reward,” Rashford told ITV Sport.
“I feel in good physical form leading up to the tournament. I still need to get in the box a bit more to finish off chances. It means a lot to be involved but going to the World Cup and playing a major part is my main aim.
“We have got a good chance. Anything is possible and we have to go there with the highest expectations.”
Rashford’s effervescent display gave his chances of starting England’s Group G opener against Tunisia, in Volgograd on Monday 18 June, no harm whatsoever, but he is keeping his feet on the ground and acknowledged there is plenty of competition to be in the starting line-up at the tournament.
“That competition for places is always there and you always want to perform to the best of your ability regardless of what game is coming up next,” he added.
“If you're in the team you want to stay and if you're not, you want to get into it, so that determination will never change.”
‘WE SOMETIMES FORGET HOW OLD HE IS’
Rashford was in and out of the United team during 2017/18 but still appeared in 52 of the Reds’ 56 games in all competitions – more than any other player – and was involved in 22 goals (scoring 13 and assisting nine).
Like his compatriot Wayne Rooney and many other United stars before him, Marcus burst onto the scene at a young age, in his case at just 17 years old, and must be given time to fulfil his true potential.
He’s scored 32 goals and recorded 17 assists in 123 appearances for the Reds – which is a more than respectable tally for a talented young forward who doesn’t turn 21 until October.
Rashford’s contribution to the cause didn’t go unnoticed by Southgate, either:
“What pleased me most is that Marcus Rashford enjoyed his football,” the England boss said after his side made it two wins from two in their World Cup warm-up games, having also beaten Nigeria 2-1 at Wembley last weekend.
“He played with a real swagger. I thought today his link-up was good. It was a wonderful strike for the goal and he worked incredibly hard for the team. He is a wonderful striker of the ball from distance.
“He is still filling out - we sometimes forget how old he is . If you come to Leeds as a Man United player, you have to move pretty quickly! I'm delighted for Marcus [Rashford] and he is desperate to do well for his club and for us.”
‘HE’LL BE AMONG THE WORLD’S BEST’
Rashford’s impressive performance, capped by his third goal for his country in his 19th appearance since his May 2016 debut, also led to high praise from a Manchester City player – in the form of his England team-mate Fabian Delph.
The midfielder feels Marcus has all the attributes to succeed and elevate himself into the bracket of the world’s top footballers.
“You could see how calm he was after the goal,” Delph told ITV Sport.
“It was another day in the office for him because he does that daily so, for him, he wasn’t surprised but, for someone like me and the lads looking from behind, it was a great finish!
“He’s a phenomenal talent, I can see him in the next couple of years being of the best players in the world.”