Preparations to next Monday’s Group G opener against Tunisia could scarcely have gone any better up until now, with the initial 23-man selection remaining intact after beating Nigeria and Costa Rica.
Rashford shone in the latter friendly and scored a superb opener during a man-of-the-match display in last week’s Elland Road send-off, underlining his claims for a starting berth when the finals get under way.
But the 20-year-old’s hopes received a setback after missing England’s first training session in Russia with a slight knee injury.
The football Association indicated Rashford’s absence was only a precautionary measure, but the forward was conspicuous by his absence in the first session at Spartak Zelenogorsk’s stadium.
England’s medical staff are treating a knee issue that Southgate called a “slight knock” upon touching down in Russia on Tuesday, with midfielder Jordan Henderson using a similarly relaxed tone the following day.
“He’s not too bad, I don’t think,” the Liverpool captain said. “It’s a knock in training.
“I think we’ve still got five days before the first game so it’s just a little bit of a precaution for him to make sure he is OK.”
After training with the remaining 21 members of the squad on Wednesday, Henderson said he did not know how Rashford sustained the issue.
Eric Dier – facing a fight with Henderson to start against Tunisia – was among those involved in Zelenogorsk, but eyebrows were raised by the heavy strapping on his left thigh.
“I am fine, thank you,” the Tottenham defensive midfielder said. “It is just a superstition more than anything now.
“It’s just because I’ve had a problem with my leg and it’s cleared up now.
“But I was wearing the strapping before and I just haven’t stopped wearing it yet. I will eventually!”
Around 400 locals watched England’s first training session, with children given Three Lions goodie bags at the start of a session that ended with the players signing autographs.
England’s training ground is a 10-minute drive from their hotel in the resort of Repino, which is 29 miles north-west of St Petersburg.
The team checked-in at the forRestMix Club on Tuesday evening, meaning players have yet to do anything other than rest and train.
— England (@England) June 13, 2018
“We just got there last night,” Dier said in interview with BBC Radio 5 Live and talkSPORT. “We were in the hotel and training this morning.
“I know over the next few days we can if we want to, so I am sure myself and others will get out and about.”
And Dier is looking forward to heading into St Petersburg over the coming weeks to explore a place he has heard so much about.
“I’d like to go and see St Petersburg,” the 24-year-old added. “Apparently, it is a beautiful city.
“I think it’s one of the most European cities in Russia, so I am looking forward to seeing the city.
“My friend’s brother used to play here at St Petersburg and he said the city was very beautiful, so it will be nice to go and see it.”
The two teams are tipped to finish one-two, with the South American side topping proceedings, in a quartet also containing hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Our pre-match talking points cover the important plotlines before they clash at the Ekaterinburg Arena in Yekaterinburg, but here, we take a closer look at the tactical side of the fixture.
Midfield battle will be decisive
While the star-studded front pair of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani grab all the headlines, the youthfulness and versatility of a well-oiled and cultured midfield should not be forgotten.
Oscar Tabarez’s side look settled, well-drilled and have benefitted from a long build-up at home, choosing to travel to Russia late, compared to most teams, last Friday.
Giorgian de Arrascaeta’s emergence as a chief playmaker behind the main two strikers has helped take some of the creative workload off of Suarez’s shoulders, he no longer needs to drop back and make lung-busting dribbles from deep.
Indeed, the young midfield threesome of Nahitan Nandez (22), Matias Vecino (20) and Rodrigo Bentancur (20) bring legs, energy and a fluid structure to allow the forwards to shine.
Bentancur, in particular, enjoyed a breakthrough season for Juventus and could become one of the stars of the tournament. His towering presence, as well as acute passing range, should see him gain an upper-hand against an Egyptian midfield duo of Mohamed Elneny and Tarek Hamed.
An opportunity for others to become heroes
Should he not feature, Mohamed Salah and his troublesome shoulder injury has given other men a chance to shine and hog the Pharaohs’ limelight.
While Ramadan Sobhi is set to take up Salah’s void from the right, 23-year-old starlet Trezeguet is the man who could do the damage for Egypt.
Operating from the left-hand side, the Anderlecht star, who has spent the past two campaigns out on loan, brings pace, trickery and movement akin to that of Salah when he reignited his career at Fiorentina.
More importantly, Trezeguet bagged 16 goals and six assists in a stunning past season on loan at Kasimpasa in Super Lig. He arrives into the tournament with confidence and Egypt need to try and get him one-on-one with Guillermo Varela.
The right full-back loves to get forward and bomb on, potentially opening up some space to exploit, splitting and dragging Atletico Madrid and international central defenders Jos Gimenez and Diego Godin out of position.
Can Egypt shackle Suarez?
West Brom pair Ahmed Hegazi and Ali Gabr will need to put Premier League relegation behind them and try to limit Suarez’s influence, as well as Edinson Cavani.
Neither star particularly has the pace to significantly blow away a defender now, but failure to stay tight and close down, especially around the box, will prove to be fatal.
The Egyptian centre-back pairing will need the help of Elneny and Hamed ahead of them to act as a shield and try and pinch the odd ball.
It is easier said than done against a player who will be determined to go out on a high in what could be his last World Cup. Let’s not forget, eight years ago, Suarez famously handled the ball on the goalline to prevent a goal against Ghana and was subsequently sent-off. Then four years ago in Brazil, he was banned for biting Giorgio Chiellini.