England concluded their World Cup preparations in impressive fashion by comfortably beating Costa Rica at Elland Road.
Manager Gareth Southgate made 10 changes from Saturday’s win against Nigeria at Wembley – and was rewarded with some fine individual displays and a commanding team performance in their final friendly before they depart for Russia.
Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford was the standout performer, pressing his World Cup claims with an outstanding first-half strike to put England ahead and threatening throughout.
Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope was given his debut as a second-half replacement for Jack Butland as Southgate made a host of changes, and Danny Welbeck – another substitute – wrapped up a thoroughly deserved win with a diving header from Dele Alli’s ball.
Has Rashford given Southgate a dilemma?
Rashford has had a frustrating season at Old Trafford, where his starting appearances have been restricted, and his confidence appeared drained in the closing months of the campaign.
That meant his hopes of a starting place in England’s World Cup line-up have drifted slightly – but this was an electrifying reminder of just what the 20-year-old can offer Southgate.
Rashford was a threat to Costa Rica from the first whistle, running at their defence with searing pace and mobility, capping it all with a superb dipping shot that left goalkeeper Keylor Navas helpless.
He thrilled the expectant Elland Road crowd with his running, and while he could not maintain that momentum after the break, this was only to be expected as the rhythm of this friendly was broken up by a raft of substitutions.
Raheem Sterling may still be favourite to start with Harry Kane in England’s attacking format in Volgograd, but Rashford has demonstrated he has the temperament and class to make a crucial contribution in Russia.
If the aim of this friendly was for players on the fringes to give Southgate food for thought, Rashford’s night was a rousing success.
Who else pressed their World Cup claims?
Alli’s fine performance alongside Jesse Lingard when England beat Nigeria opened up the possibility of one of Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson – the long-time midfield foundations – losing their place.
If it was a choice between Alli and Lingard before, suddenly the scenario of a selection between Dier and Henderson opened up.
After Dier figured against Nigeria, this was Henderson’s opportunity as he returned to action after his Champions League final exertions for Liverpool against Real Madrid in Kiev.
Henderson was busy and effective in this fine England performance, leading by example as captain, before his second-half replacement by Alli.
Southgate may well use the solidity of Henderson and Dier in greater tests to come, such as the group game against Belgium, and the Liverpool captain’s performance was what Southgate has come to expect.
Rose also did his chances no harm as he competes with Manchester United’s Ashley Young at left-back, while Fabian Delph’s energy in midfield was eye-catching.
The fact Southgate chose not to give goalkeeper Jack Butland a full game and hand a debut toPope in the second half was surely final confirmation that Everton’s Jordan Pickford will, as expected, be the number one.
All in all, this performance added to the feel-good factor and cautious optimism that will accompany the squad to Russia now their final friendly is over.
Life on the road a big hit
England took to the road again, leaving Wembley for Elland Road for their last workout before the World Cup.
And it was a big success, a sell-out crowd here in Yorkshire confirming there is a huge appetite to see England away from their traditional base.
The crowd in Leeds were in buoyant mood before kick-off and gave England rousing support throughout – even dusting off the old Euro ’96 anthem Football’s Coming Home as Southgate’s side dominated in some style.
If England do play away from Wembley, and with the stadium’s future ownership under consideration it is a possibility, this night and this atmosphere proved they will not lack for any support.
Man of the match – Marcus Rashford
‘We maintained our momentum’ – what they said
England manager Gareth Southgate told BBC Radio 5 live: “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. That is epitomised by the three lads that have been with us on standby with their outstanding professional attitude.”
England goalscorer Marcus Rashford: “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.
“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.”
England captain Jordan Henderson: “Overall we know if we perform to the standards we are capable of, we can hurt anyone. We have prepared well but we have still got more to do before the first game.”
England debutant Trent Alexander-Arnold: “Obviously I have been chosen in the squad to play if needed. It’s an incentive to work hard in training and try your best to try and get in the team.”
England depart for Russia on Tuesday and will play their World Cup opener against Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday, 18 June.
Southgate’s side will then line up against Panama on Sunday, 24 June and face Belgium in their final group game on Thursday, 28 June.
Costa Rica will travel to Belgium on Monday for their final warm-up game, before leaving for Russia, where they will face Serbia, Brazil and Switzerland in Group E.