Marcus Rashford’s stunning strike set England on course for a winning World Cup send-off as Gareth Southgate’s much-changed side produced a controlled performance against Costa Rica.
Just 11 days before their Group G opener against Tunisia, Thursday’s sold-out Elland Road friendly was the last chance for the Three Lions to fine-tune before departing for Russia.
Southgate made widespread alterations in a bid to test his options and for the most part was rewarded with an encouraging display, with Rashford superbly opening the scoring before Danny Welbeck came off the bench to secure a 2-0 win against underwhelming Costa Rica.
It would have been more had the Three Lions showed a cutting edge, but there was far more to shout about in comparison to the countries’ last meeting at the World Cup four years ago.
Roy Hodgson’s already-eliminated side brought the curtain down on their dreadful finals foray with a lifeless goalless draw in Belo Horizonte.
Just five members from the squad in Brazil are heading to this summer’s finals, with Southgate favouring promise over experience.
This is a fresh group bursting with potential and Rashford is among the contenders to star judging by this audition in West Yorkshire, where a superb 25-yard opener crowned a fine performance,
The Manchester United forward was particularly impressive in the first half, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek another fringe players to sparkle in the first period of a match that tailed off after the break.
But England never looked in danger of throwing away their lead and substitute Welbeck headed home to seal victory against the 2014 World Cup’s surprise package.
England will travel to the World Cup next week on the back of a 2-0 win over Costa Rica in their friendly on Thursday night.
Gareth Southgate made a series of changes to his team but Marcus Rashford opened the scoring with a sensational goal before substitute Danny Welbeck doubled the lead in the second half.
Here, we look at how the players fared in England’s final warm-up match before the World Cup at Elland Road.
Jack Butland: 6 – Was called into action in the 25th minute, making a comfortable stop. Didn’t have much to do in the second half before being substituted.
Harry Maguire: 7 – Did his job as part of a back-three defence and nearly got his first England goal when his header was cleared off the line.
John Stones: 7 – The only man to have kept his place in the win against Nigeria. Strong performance by the Man City defender, closing any danger that came his way.
Phil Jones: 6 – A solid display and teamed up well with Stones to make things difficult for Costa Rica. Could have been better with his precision of his passes.
Jordan Henderson: 6 – At the centre of things in the middle of the park. Saw a shot go just wide in the second half.
Danny Rose: 7 – Just like Delph, saw a lot of the ball in the first half and continued being a threat on the wing.
Trent Alexander-Arnold: 6 – Didn’t finish the game but can be proud of his debut. Hardly put a foot wrong.
Fabian Delph: 7 – A very impressive display by the Manchester City man. Showed plenty of promise going forward.
Rufus Loftus-Cheek: 7 – Showed his strength and agility in what was a decent game. Showed a series of neat touches in the final third.
Marcus Rashford: 8 – Started the game brightly and pressed his case for selection by unleashing a stunning 25-yard screamer. Continued to be threat with his pace and movement. By far England’s best player on the pitch.
Jamie Vardy: 5 – Had a very quiet first-half, seven touches to be exact including an opportunity on goal.
Nick Pope: 6 – On for his international debut. Had little to do with Costa Rica poor in front of goal.
Danny Welbeck: 7 – Justified Gareth Southgate’s decision to substituting Jamie Vardy by getting the team’s second.
Delli Alli: 7 – Showed once again why he will be a key player in Russia by creating England’s second.
Gareth Southgate has admitted Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier could be fighting over one place in England’s World Cup side.
Both men have captained the side during his reign and, of Southgate’s 16 games in charge, Dier has started 12 and Henderson has started nine.
But his desire to play with two attacking options in central midfield – roles filled by Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli in the weekend win over Nigeria – means one of his trusted lieutenants could miss out.
Dier played the anchoring role at Wembley and Henderson will take over for Thursday’s farewell friendly against Costa Rica at Elland Road, but decision time is looming for the Group G opener against Tunisia.
“I’d be amazed if the two of them aren’t important figures for us during the tournament, but there is clearly the possibility they might not both play in every match,” said Southgate.
“It is a key decision, but that’s management isn’t it? You either select players, or you choose your system and pick the best people to fit into it. They’re the tough calls.
“But I think we will only want to play with one ‘pivot’.”
There remains a possibility that Henderson could play in the more advanced role, but that would be a change of gear given his shielding responsibilities at Liverpool, while Dier is capable – but not eager – to play in a back three.
At present, though, it seems likely one will be on bench duty in Volgograd on June 18.
“Henderson can play as a number eight, so that gives you an option, Dier can play as a centre-back…so they both have another way into the team. We’ll have to look at that,” added Southgate.
Jamie Vardy is another who may fall foul of Southgate’s tactical preferences.
The Leicester striker netted 20 goals last season but he may be short of chances with Harry Kane certain to start as centre forward and Raheem Sterling preferred as his foil.
Vardy is another player set to start against Costa Rica, alongside Jordan Pickford in goal and the likes of Fabian Delph and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, but Southgate’s selection will be based mostly on conditioning for the tournament.
“We’ve looked at (Kane with Vardy) in training and at the moment we’ve not gone with it,” he said.
“We’ve had Harry with Raheem – we liked the look of that.”
Southgate has promised to start five of his Yorkshire-born contingent in Leeds – Delph, Vardy, Harry Maguire and Danny Rose are all likely to get their chance with one of Kyle Walker and John Stones holding their spot.