England beat Slovakia 2-1 on Monday night to move within touching distance of a place in the World Cup finals in Russia next year.

It was far from a vintage display by Gareth Southgate’s men, who had to come from behind on a nervy evening at Wembley.

One player who did emerge with his reputation significantly enhanced was Marcus Rashford, starting only his second competitive match for his country.

The Manchester United star was at fault for Stanislav Lobotka’s opener inside three minutes, giving the ball away on the edge of his own area when trying to play out of defence.

Lesser players would have gone into their shell on such an occasion, but Rashford picked himself up and helped his side back into the game before the break with a clever near post corner that Eric Dier guided into the roof of the net.

He continued to be a menace, drifting in off the flanks and making regular charges for the Slovakian penalty area as England searched for the three points that would put them firmly in command of their qualification group.

The 19-year-old ultimately provided the defining moment of the match, picking up captain Jordan Henderson’s short pass on 59 minutes and sending a dipping effort into the bottom corner of Martin Dubravka’s goal from 25 yards.

Overall it was an impressive performance from the forward, whose pace and dynamism was a constant threat to Slovakia’s backline.

He must now be hoping to make a spot on the wing his own, particularly given the disappointing efforts of fellow wide men Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain over the international break.

Manchester City’s Sterling started against Malta on Friday, but was withdrawn at half-time to make way for Rashford.

That evening the former Liverpool man was woeful, squandering an early opportunity to put his team ahead and suffering a drastic loss in confidence from then on.

He was benched for the visit of Slovakia, entering the field only for a 10-minute cameo as England sought to preserve their advantage.

As for Oxlade-Chamberlain, he started both matches but his displays embodied many of the frustrations that have dogged his career to date, with lively moments all too often blighted by a lack of end product.

On the evidence of Monday evening, his new Liverpool team-mate Adam Lallana will have little trouble ousting him for club and country once he returns from a thigh injury.

The truth of the matter is that Rashford already looks more at home at international level than either Sterling or Oxlade-Chamberlain ever have.

Assured of touch, versatile and positive with the ball at his feet, the youngster appears able to take the game to the opposition whilst also giving a cutting edge that the Three Lions have lacked on the wing for a number of years.

Unlike the two aforementioned players, or indeed the likes of Theo Walcott, who has been in and out of the setup for what seems like an age, Rashford combines his pace with outstanding technical ability and seems unfazed by the weight of expectation on his shoulders.

Indeed, the show of character to recover from an early setback was perhaps the most pleasing aspect of his display on Monday, revealing a mental strength that belies his age.

It seems only right to temper this by saying that the Manchester-born starlet has yet to shine at a major tournament; that is the true measure of an England international and the point at which a number of his predecessors have fallen short.

Rashford travelled to France for the European Championships last summer and was criminally underused by manager Roy Hodgson, making just two substitute appearances including a baffling introduction with four minutes remaining of the humiliating last-16 loss to Iceland.

If and when England qualify for the World Cup, you can guarantee that the attacker will form part of Southgate’s plans for the tournament.

At the rate Rashford is progressing, few would bet against him playing a major role on the biggest stage of all.


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