Just three months after making his debut for Manchester United, Marcus Rashford will make his England bow with a real chance to stake a claim for a place in Euro 2016 and continue a remarkable rise. Friday’s friendly against Australia at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light will be England’s final game before next Tuesday’s deadline for coach Roy Hodgson to whittle down his squad to the 23 names that will travel to France.
And it is the situation of Rashford that promises to provoke the most interest. The 18-year-old’s captain at Old Trafford, Wayne Rooney, who made his international debut when England last took on Australia 13 years ago, will be rested for the game, along with Harry Kane. With fellow forward Jamie Vardy absent after getting married earlier this week and Daniel Sturridge having picked up an injury, Hodgson has said that Rashford will play a “serious part in the game.” And, despite admitting that his young starlet will very much be in the spotlight, Hodgson expects him to deal with the pressure.
“I'm more than content that Rashford will handle that situation,” he said ahead of the game. “It is a big game for him because I, my coaching staff, the rest of the players, he himself, the whole of the English football world will be looking to say 'we all think this lad's got something special... can he show it to us once again?'.
“We'll be giving him every chance to do so and he'll get so much help, so much support and so much encouragement from the rest of the team.”
While opportunity knocks for Rashford, Fabian Delph has been ruled out of both Friday’s friendly and the squad for Euro 2016. The midfielder, who played a prominent role in qualifying but endured a disappointing first season at Manchester City, has picked up a groin injury and will now only be considered if there are further injuries to the squad.
England head to Sunderland fresh from a 2-1 victory over Turkey in their first warm-up match on Sunday, secured by goals from Vardy and Harry Kane. Following the meeting with Australia, Hodgson’s side will just have a clash with Portugal at Wembley before starting their Euro 2016 campaign against Russia on June 11 in Marseille.
Australia have no such immediate concerns, with their competitive outing not coming until the end of August when resuming their World Cup qualifying campaign. Still, coach Ange Postecoglou has stressed that the game, and two friendlies against Greece next month, represent important contests in the side’s development.
Memories of the Socceroos’ last meeting with England, a 3-1 victory in 2003, should provide plenty of inspiration. However, Postecoglou wants his side, the current Asian champions, to do more than simply play spoiler to an established power.
“I don’t want to play this underdog crap, I've been over that for a while,” he said. “I don't really care what other people think, I've always said that. At the end of the day it's really about us and we want to play our football against a good opponent - whether other people like it or don't like it is pretty irrelevant to be honest.
“Hopefully we get into the space as a national team and as a nation where we don't really care what other people and other nations think of us. Hopefully they don't want to play us in the future.”
Postecoglou could match Hodgson in giving a debut to a young striker. Jamie Maclaren, 22, is expected to make his bow after scoring 20 goals in 25 games for Brisbane Roar this season.
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1