Marcus Rashford ‘different player’ after return to form, says Gareth Southgate
Gareth Southgate paid tribute to Marcus Rashford for his comeback after goals from the forward and Phil Foden helped England set up a last‑16 tie with Senegal and sent Wales tumbling out of the World Cup.
Rashford struggled for fitness and confidence after missing his spot‑kick when England lost the Euro 2020 final on penalties to Italy, but he looks rejuvenated after winning back his place in the squad for this tournament.
The Manchester United striker is joint top in the race for the Golden Boot – he is level with France’s Kylian Mbappé, Ecuador’s Enner Valencia and the Netherlands’ Cody Gakpo on three goals – and his double in the second half against Wales put Southgate’s side on the way to winning Group B.
“It’s been a challenge for him [Rashford],” Southgate said. “I went and saw him in the summer and had a long chat with him. He had some clear ideas on things he felt he needed to think about and to do. You can see at his club there’s been happiness in his performances this year. That’s shown itself on the training ground all the time with us.
“We’ve got a different version completely to the player we had in the Euros last summer. He’s managed to produce those moments tonight. He could have had a hat-trick with the chance in the first half and the one at the near post towards the end. But it’s great for him and it’s great for us.”
Rashford, who opened the scoring with a thumping free-kick, will hope to keep Raheem Sterling out of the side when England meet Senegal on Sunday. He started on the left against Wales but Southgate decided to tweak his attack after a flat first half. Rashford swapped flanks with Foden, who made his first start of the tournament after coming in for Bukayo Saka, and Southgate now has a selection conundrum before the tie with Senegal.
“You want those sorts of decisions,” England’s head coach said. “We need strength in depth. It was also important for us tonight that Kyle Walker got minutes and Kalvin Phillips got minutes. You just never know when we’re going to need that depth.
“It’s tough because you’ve got players who didn’t get on to the field and players who will be slightly disappointed. But the spirit in the dressing room at the end was fantastic. They’ve got a day off their feet. They don’t have to train tomorrow – that’s important. Especially the players who haven’t started as many games, they’ve been training every single day. They don’t have to look at our faces, which I’m sure they’ll be delighted with.”
England have won their World Cup group for the first time since 2006 and Southgate believes his players are more confident than they were in Russia four years ago. “There is a different mentality about the whole group. There’s more belief. Our objectives are different. In Russia, we were just thinking about ‘Could we win a knockout game?’ There’s more expectation now, but more confidence and more experience of big matches.”
Rob Page stayed optimistic after Wales, who had not qualified for a World Cup finals tournament since 1958, finished bottom of the group with one point. “We look back with frustration but it is an amazing achievement for that group of players to get here in the first place,” the Wales manager said. “We build on that. There’s a bigger picture here.
“We’re disappointed because we know in a couple of the games we haven’t shown our true colours. That is probably the most frustrating thing for me and the group of players.”
Page said Gareth Bale, who went off at half-time with a hamstring injury, has not played his last game for Wales. “I don’t think it will be the last time you see him in a Welsh jersey. There are games starting again in March for the Euros and we want to get off to a flying start.”