World Cup 2018: 5 days to go

Strength in depth on show

Marcus Rashford hurdling over Costa Rica's Cristian Gamboa in England's 2-0 win. Rashford is one of Gareth Southgate's five forwards and offers the England boss a different option to main striker Harry Kane.
Marcus Rashford hurdling over Costa Rica's Cristian Gamboa in England's 2-0 win. Rashford is one of Gareth Southgate's five forwards and offers the England boss a different option to main striker Harry Kane.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Southgate has 'selection dilemma' for Russia after second team impress against Costa Rica

LONDON • While it might be wiser for England supporters to rein in their optimism before the World Cup actually starts, there appears to be grounds for positivity.

Increasingly, there is a sense that Gareth Southgate's players are high on confidence and are capable of putting together some vibrant football in Russia.

There are also no obvious signs of the end-of-season fatigue that has so often weighed them down before major tournaments.

And Southgate is entitled to be encouraged after a 2-0 friendly victory over Costa Rica on Thursday in Leeds that will be remembered mostly for Marcus Rashford's spectacular first-half goal.

Both Rashford and Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek caught the eye to offer Southgate food for thought before the squad's departure for Russia on Tuesday.

The England manager admitted post-match he had "serious decisions" to make over his starting line-up for his team's Group G opener against Tunisia on June 18, after a much-changed side impressed in their last warm-up game.

He also gave 19-year-old Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold his very first cap.

SELECTION HEADACHE

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 (2-1 win) and a second team tonight. We have quality across the two line-ups.

GARETH SOUTHGATE, England manager, on how it will be tough for him to pick his starting line-up for the World Cup opener against Tunisia on June 18.

The dismissal of Costa Rica with substitute Danny Welbeck adding the second goal meant the hosts extended their unbeaten run to 10 games, going back nearly a year.

"It's more difficult, no question," Southgate said. "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.

"We asked the players to give us competition for places, and they've done that. We needed options."

Southgate had high praise for Rashford, who staked his claim to start England's World Cup campaign with a thunderbolt that dipped perfectly over Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas for his third international goal.

"What pleased me most is that Marcus Rashford enjoyed his football tonight. He played with a real swagger tonight," Southgate added.

"They (the team) are going to make errors but, by taking risks, they show the glimpses of quality like Marcus' opening goal. That was world class.

"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 (2-1 win) and a second team tonight. We have quality across the two line-ups."

The 47-year-old also singled out Loftus-Cheek as another player firmly knocking on his door for a place on the team sheet.

"Ruben is another super talent. It's still early for him. 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," he said.

"But we believe in him. You can see the ability he has to hold people off, his speed and the strength when he is running with the ball."

Southgate, who will give his squad a few days off before they fly off, was asked how he would unwind ahead of the showpiece event.

"I'm going to get my hair cut, for a start. Probably try and watch my son play cricket, and be at home with the family. It's important I switch off," he said.

"It's important to keep in perspective because tournaments demand huge energy levels from everyone."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2018, with the headline 'Strength in depth on show'. Print Edition | Subscribe