Rashford's redemption proves he can lead England's World Cup charge

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The young front man bounced back after an early error to lead the Three Lions ever closer to the World Cup finals


He is still only 19 years of age, but there seems to be little that fazes Marcus Rashford.

The boy whose rapid rise to fame with Manchester United was handled with the calm demeanour of a man twice his age was given one of the toughest examinations yet of his temperament on Monday night. But he delivered in abundance to steer England to within a whisker of the World Cup finals in Russia next summer.

Making only his second competitive start for his national side in the qualifying fixture against Slovakia at Wembley, Rashford gave the visitors a huge helping hand in the opening moments but showed tremendous resilience and character to lead the Three Lions to a crucial 2-1 victory in Group F.

Rashford was all too easily dispossessed in the defensive third in the third minute of the contest by Stanislav Lobotka, who exchanged quick passes with Adam Nemec and then side-footed easily past Joe Hart. For every bit that Rashford showed naivety in the first instance, Hart showed an utter lack of form in the latter as the ball sailed between his body and his outstretched arm from a standing position.

Stanislav Lobotka Slovakia

For half an hour, England looked shell-shocked and short of ideas until Harry Kane won a corner and Rashford sent in the flag-kick to the near post where Eric Dier flicked the ball home. It was a barely-deserved equaliser, but it at least gave Gareth Southgate’s men a foothold in the game and increased their chances of finding space in Slovakia’s half with the away side really needing to win the game.

And the man who was always most likely to exploit such space did exactly that on the hour as he picked the ball up, drove forward and across Martin Dubravka out of nothing. England were ahead and Rashford had completed one of the speediest stories of redemption in recent memory.

Southgate has not appeared particularly keen to give Rashford much game time since mopping up Sam Allardyce's mess a year ago, but on this performance there appears little reason not to make the young Mancunian one of his key men in the weeks and months to come.

Rashford Southgate

Since the slow demise and eventual retirement of Wayne Rooney, England have found themselves searching for a reference point of sorts in attack. But over the past couple of games it has been Rashford who has led them forward. His arrival as a half-time substitute against Malta on Friday changed the course of the match entirely, and at Wembley on Monday he made himself even more indispensable.

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There are yet nine months to go before the main event begins in Russia, and England still have to earn one more win to book their flight, but Rashford’s name is surely a certainty to be included in Southgate’s plans.

More than that, with the display of maturity and character delivered against Slovakia, Rashford has everything needed to be a success in international football.

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