Marcus Rashford is a player transformed for England, manager Gareth Southgate said after the forward’s double strike against Wales on Tuesday propelled England into World Cup last 16.
When Southgate named his England World Cup squad it was by no means a certainty that Rashford’s name would be included.
Yet if there were any remaining doubts about whether he had deserved to be on the plane they were swept away in England’s final Group B game when a second-half brace helped them to well-deserved 3-0 win that set up a knockout encounter with Senegal.
His first goal, a direct free kick shortly after halftime, broke the deadlock for England after what had been a stodgy first half, while the second was perhaps more to type, as he cut inside and found the net with a sharp finish between the keeper’s legs.
As he raised his arms to the heavens in celebration, which he later explained was because a close friend had recently died, the image stood in contrast to last year, when Rashford’s form faltered heading into the delayed Euro 2020.
He then largely played a support role at the tournament, which ended with him missing a penalty in the final shootout against Italy.
“It’s been a challenge for him," said Southgate after handing Rashford his first start since June last year.
“I went and saw him in the summer and had a long chat, he had some clear ideas on what he felt he needed to do and you can see with his club, that has shown itself with us. We have a different player to the Euros.
“It’s great for him and great for us."
The forward is now the joint top scorer at the World Cup with three goals, having only started one of England’s three games and played a total of 107 minutes.
“Moments like this, this is what I play football for. The biggest moments, the best moments," he said after England topped their World Cup group for the first time since 2006.
Rashford’s selection was also a vindication for Southgate, who rang the changes, drafting in the Manchester United forward and Phil Foden in place of Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka.
Foden was a busy presence on the flank, especially in the second half when he switched sides with Rashford, and grabbed England’s second goal, a tap-in from a Harry Kane cross.
“In moments I thought both of them (Rashford and Foden) were a bit quiet in the first half," Southgate said.
“We decided to switch wings and we thought that might allow them to go on the outside but also the chance to come in and they responded really well. And of course for them both to get the goals is great."
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