England boss Gareth Southgate poised to unleash Marcus Rashford on Panama

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 22 June 2018, 10:05

GARETH SOUTHGATE is poised to unleash Marcus Rashford on the World Cup and with it hopefully invigorate England.

There have not been many dull games at this year’s tournament and Russia 2018 is shaping up to become one of the most exhilarating and exotic for years as the greatest football show on earth breaks new ground in the world’s biggest country.

Unfortunately, the England squad which left home less than two weeks ago full of youthful spirit, freedom of expression and gay abandon appears to have reverted to type with a stilted performance in the opening game against Tunisia.

In the second half particularly, England looked like the England of old: nervous, devoid of invention and playing with the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Only when boss Southgate brought on Rashford for the last 22 minutes was there a spark of life and the feeling that this team of boys can achieve beyond expectations.

The Manchester United striker looks like he will be asked to inject the same pace and energy into Sunday’s game against Panama from the start.

Yet there is a feeling within the England scene that Rashford is fast becoming the classic impact player. A hand grenade with a short-timed fuse. Lob him on when you need a game to explode into life.

It is interesting that 10 of his 15 goals for club and country last season came in games where Rashford did not play the full 90 minutes.

He either came off the bench or was taken off before the final whistle, having done his job.

There’s no logical reason why this should be and it will be a curious side issue to England’s cause as a whole to see whether the 20-year-old stays the distance on Sunday or is again substituted before the end.

Being so young he clearly has the legs to run forever yet his boss at Man Utd, Jose Mourinho, is intent on keeping him on a relatively short lead.

And maybe it works. After all, the figures seem to back up that he does his best work when let loose to chase down opposition defenders in short, sharp shocks.

Rashford’s treatment by Mourinho last season was a source of controversy at Old Trafford but now comes the test of whether Rashford is a stayer.

France boss Didier Deschamps watched teenager Kylian Mbappe terrorise Peru on Thursday and score the goal which put Les Blues into the last 16.

But once the job was done he took Mbappe off with 15 minutes to go, for tactical reasons because like Rashford, his young engine can cope with top gear all day and night.

Rashford playing alongside Harry Kane can hopefully produce the kind of spectacular show England fans have been longing for.

For too many years now our national team has been full of stars who feel the weight of the shirt too heavily when representing the country at a major tournament.

Rashford and to a similar extent blossoming midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek are the two ingredients which can trigger something explosive rather like nitric acid and glycerine.

Because nobody really expects England to win this World Cup it is as much about experimenting, gaining experience and showing the millions watching on TV that English players can make sparks fly.

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