Rejuvenated Marcus Rashford haunts Wales to lead England into World Cup last-16

Wales 0-3 England: Rashford scored twice as Gareth Southgate’s side wrapped up top spot in Group B and set up a clash with Senegal on Sunday

Miguel Delaney
at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium
Tuesday 29 November 2022 21:41 GMT
Fans go wild as England score two goals in two minutes

From the third oldest international fixture, and the sort of win we’ve seen so often, to something completely new. That doesn’t apply to the goalscoring of Marcus Rashford, since this only represents a welcome return to form that Gareth Southgate greeted with a delighted embrace.

Rather, England will meet Senegal for the first time ever, after finishing top of the group thanks to an easy 3-0 win over Wales.

Aliou Cisse’s resilient team will pose an entirely different type of challenge – or, if you wanted to be harsh, an actual challenge given how supine the Welsh were – and it does sharpen the question of what sort of team Southgate will put out. England are clearly still finding themselves in this World Cup, even as they found the net so easily against Robert Page’s team.

Rashford seems likely to start the Senegal last-16 fixture (The FA via Getty Images)

There were almost two Englands in the one game here, but not quite in the synchronised way Southgate would like.

That’s maybe forgivable in the circumstances. This was a World Cup match being controversially held in Qatar, with a last-16 place on the line, and it really had the feel of a comfortable friendly in a regional ground. That was only deepened when, inexplicably, Chesney Hawkes came out at half-time to sing The One and Only.

You’d wonder how Fifa President Gianni Infantino felt today after that. Many others in the stand were bemused.

At the least, you can’t take this World Cup qualification away from Wales even if it never got better than Gareth Bale’s late penalty against the USA.

There were initial indications they might pull off a great rearguard against England, as Scotland did in Euro 2020, only for Page’s defence to just buckle under the quality bearing down on them – and, admittedly, Phil Foden just going down.

It could at least be said that the playmaker offered Southgate the breakthrough required, even if it was not in the way imagined.

And while Foden went off to score in a generally fine performance, the main story from the player was Rashford.

Rashford celebrates after scoring the opening goal (AP)

He is showing the player everyone said he should become, and at precisely the right moment. It is almost preposterous to think the debate will now rage over whether he should start against Senegal, since he is now one of the World Cup’s top scorers on three with Kylian Mbappe, Cody Gakpo and Enner Valencia. That in turn made him the first Manchester United player to score three for England at a World Cup since Sir Bobby Charlton in 1966.

Some will take that as a sign, but Rashford’s goals were more a showcase of a player on form.

The first was another breakthrough in itself, given it was the first goal from a direct free kick of this World Cup. And that just two days after Kieran Trippier, switched out of the team here, complained of how light the ball was. You couldn’t have a World Cup without such a story. You now might not be able to have an England starting XI without Rashford.

He certainly caught the ball beautifully, as it flew into the roof of the net. It was perfect.

It is the end of a difficult tournament for Wales (Getty Images)

His second, and England’s third, then made a virtue of Welsh imperfection and was just as good to watch in a different way. Rashford surged through, turning this way and that, before putting it through the hapless Danny Ward.

The expression on Rashford’s face showed a player really enjoying his football again – and allowed England to express themselves.

Given everything that’s happened since, it’s easy to forget now that Rashford was seen as the potentially greater talent than Harry Kane on first coming through, and was one of England’s few bright notes of Euro 2016.

Now, the one surprise was that he had scored three and Kane still had none. That will frustrate the England captain but he was still focused enough to supply a gorgeous ball for Foden to finally get his goal.

Foden scored after much public clamour for him to start for England (Getty Images)

It ensured England scored nine in this group stage, and that despite a residual feeling they haven’t yet clicked or shown what they could be. That might be an issue, or it might be a strength, as they grow into this World Cup like Rashford.

Southgate can't afford to look back too much, or fight the last match. He now faces new opposition, which might be perfect for the renewed Rashford.

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