RASHFORD LEEDS THE WAY
England completed their World Cup dress rehearsals with a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Costa Rica. Auditioning striker Marcus Rashford marked a stirring performance with a stunning opening goal.
Gareth Southgate made wholesale changes for this one as only John Stones retained a starting place from Saturday. Trent Alexander-Arnold made his England senior debut at just nineteen, presented with his first England shirt by none other than The Duke of Cambridge. Household names Joel Campbell and Keylor Navas both started for Costa Rica, whose draw with England at the last World Cup saw them top Group D.
The Three Lions, playing at Elland Road for the first time in sixteen years, pressed intensely from the start and nearly took a seventh minute lead, only for Keylor Navas to beat away a Harry Maguire-bound cross. With Marcus Rashford showcasing his flicks and tricks from the first minute, he didn’t really need to score a scorcher to show how well he way playing. He did so nonetheless. On twelve minutes, the Manchester United forward took the ball from Ruben Loftus-Cheek, took one touch to turn, and then unleashed a dipping, swinging effort that flew over Navas and into the net. Few players can leave the Real Madrid keeper quite so helpless. This, his third England goal, may take some beating to be topped.
As the clock ticked towards twenty minutes, the always-lively Fabian Delph put a great ball into the box. Maguire knocked the ball down, but it just wouldn’t sit down for Jamie Vardy. By the time Leicester’s star man had got it under control, Navas had advanced close enough to make a point-blank save. Costa Rica were really just feeding off scraps, and when Johan Venegas forced Jack Butland into a terrific save, they may have felt things were just not going to fall their way. Fabian Delph, captain on the night Jordan Henderson, and Alexander-Arnold all put mean crosses into the box to no avail, as England looked to add to their already-deserved one goal advantage. The interval arrived at the right time for both sides. England needed a breather, and Costa Rica needed to offer a little more on the offence. England led by one.
Marco Ureña of Costa Rica was the first man to force a save in the second forty-five, although Jack Butland got down with ease. There was then a little period of nothingness, before Jamie Vardy’s winning of the ball from the Costa Rican defence forced Navas into his next save. Loftus-Cheek nodded Vardy’s pass on, before Henderson arrived in true Steven Gerrard fashion to piledrive the ball against Keylor Navas’ palms. The Liverpool captain’s search for a first international goal goes on.
The infestation of friendly substitutions entered the fray, with Danny Welbeck, Kieran Trippier and Dele Alli doing the same. Gary Cahill came on to immediately take over from the subbed Henderson as captain, whilst Butland was replaced in goal by England’s second debutant of the evening, Burnley’s revelation – Nick Pope. Costa Rica made four changes of their own, including the introduction of veteran midfielder Christian Bolaños.
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Back to on-field antics, and Loftus-Cheek and Danny Rose scuffed shots wide, either side of a narrowly missed Trippier freekick. Dele Alli’s forays forward seem much more plentiful for club than country, but as he carried the ball forward with fifteen minutes left, he wasn’t to know that it would lead to a goal. His smart lay off to Marcus Rashford earned him the ball back, now inside the box. Alli’s whipped cross-come-shot looked to be flying wide, before Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck, almost comically, appeared from nowhere to punch the ball in with an instinctive diving header. Welbeck, often mocked for his failure to set club football alight, was a true favourite under Roy Hodgson, and now has more England goals than Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane combined.
Southgate’s final substitute, Jesse Lingard, had a shot blocked as England tried to make proceedings look even more convincing late on. Nick Pope’s first save as an international came in stoppage-time, as substitute winger Rónald Matarrita volleyed hard and true from a near-impossible angle. Pope ensured England kept their sixth clean sheet from eight games. Matters were brought to an end by referee Hiroyuki Kimura, who sounded his whistle for the final time. England will next kick a ball at the World Cup itself, when they kick off in eleven days’ time. A commanding victory from arguably England’s second-team was enough to turn some heads. It ended, at Elland Road, England 2-0 Costa Rica.