Euro 2016

England call-up still 'surreal'

Marcus Rashford arriving at England's base in France, ahead of their Euro 2016 Group B opening match against Russia tomorrow in which he hopes that he will be able to play a part.
Marcus Rashford arriving at England's base in France, ahead of their Euro 2016 Group B opening match against Russia tomorrow in which he hopes that he will be able to play a part.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

A relative unknown just a few months ago, Marcus Rashford is relishing his chance in France

CHANTILLY (France) • Marcus Rashford has admitted "it doesn't feel real" being part of England's squad in Euro 2016, after setting out at the start of the year with the sole aim, by his own admission, of establishing a regular place in Manchester United's Under-21 side.

The 18-year-old's remarkable ascent into the first team at Old Trafford, followed by a goal three minutes into his debut for England, and then the confirmation he would be joining Roy Hodgson's squad in France, has formed one of the more implausible success stories of recent years.

He is now wondering whether he might play a part in tomorrow's Group B opener against Russia and slowly coming to terms with his new status as an international footballer as he takes in a surreal few months.

"When I first went into the changing room and saw all of the players' names on the back of their shirts, it seems surreal," Rashford said.

"I remember going home after and speaking to my brother about it, and he agreed with me - he didn't think it was real either. That's what it's like until you get used to it."

Rashford is also aware he might still be playing for United's youth teams but for an injury pile-up at Old Trafford and Anthony Martial suffering a hamstring strain during the warm-up to the Europa League tie against Midtyjlland on Feb 25.

The teenager scored twice, adding another six goals before the end of a season when his ambitions dramatically changed.

"Back then, I was actually trying to work my way into the (United) Under-21 side and all of a sudden I appeared in the first team," Rashford recalled.

"You have to be ready when your chance comes.

"To be honest, I wasn't really thinking about the England set-up much because at United, there were a lot of games coming thick and fast. All of my focus was on those games. At the end of the season you hear talk, but to be here now is just amazing."

Rashford is vying with Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge for a striking berth.

"I think it's a good way to end the season for me, and hopefully we get some joy in the tournament," he said.

England face Russia in Marseille tomorrow with their centre-halves having to contend with the 1.95m-tall striker Artem Dzyuba, who has scored nine times in 18 internationals.

Roy Hodgson's side conceded only three goals in qualifying, but it was against modest opposition, barring Switzerland, and far removed from the challenge set by the Dutch and Spanish in subsequent friendlies.

There has been fierce criticism of the central defenders in the English press and questions raised whether they can cope with more accomplished forwards.

However, Chris Smalling has sought to allay those fears, saying that: "I want to show I am good enough for that job."

He said of Dzyuba, the Zenit St Petersburg target man: "We've been watching videos this week. He's a big guy and it will be a physical battle. As defenders in the Premier League, we're used to big guys and those challenges and it's something we enjoy."

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2016, with the headline 'England call-up still 'surreal''. Print Edition | Subscribe