LEEDS, England (Reuters) - England manager Gareth Southgate was giving no clues as to his starting line-up for England’s opening World Cup game but the performance of striker Marcus Rashford in Thursday’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica certainly gave him food for thought.
Rashford scored with a beautiful long-range shot to set England on their way to their second victory this week as they prepare for the Group G clash with Tunisia in Volgograd on June 18.
Southgate called the goal “world class” but he was just as happy with the all-round play of the 20-year-old Manchester United forward.
“What pleased me most is that Marcus Rashford enjoyed his football tonight. He played with a real swagger,” Southgate told reporters.
“I thought his link-up was good. It was a wonderful strike for the goal and he worked incredibly hard for the team.
“We have got great competition for places throughout the team - you saw that,” added the England manager.
Rashford had a disappointing end to United’s Premier League season, and Southgate felt he may have been trying too hard.
But against Costa Rica, Rashford looked relaxed and confident on the ball, utilising his electric pace in the right moments but also toying with defenders as he stood on the ball out wide.
“He had a difficult end to the season having to play on his own as a number nine at times. He is still filling out - we sometimes forget how old he is,” Southgate said.
The key question now for Southgate is whether he opts to play Rashford in attack alongside Harry Kane or whether Raheem Sterling will keep that role.
Southgate said he was delighted to have such competition for places.
“We could go through 11 of those on the basis of what we saw tonight - and that’s critical because we won’t progress on 11 players chosen in the first game. We need that competition but I’m delighted with our preparation and I feel positive about our platform leading into the tournament,” he said.
“We made 10 changes and maintained the momentum with what we are doing. Everyone knew their roles and the collective effort of the group shows a really good mentality.
“I told them I was expecting mistakes tonight and if we are not, then we are not being creative enough, but if we are, then we get moments like that goal tonight. He is a wonderful striker of the ball from distance,” he said.
Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond