Just eight days before Euro 2016 gets underway, two of the teams with hopes of taking home the trophy in France will move into the final stretch of their preparations with a friendly international at Wembley on Thursday. Neither England nor Portugal have ever won the European Championship but both are boldly talking up their chances of making a real impact in France.
Having record a perfect record in qualifying, England have been boosted by a emerging crop of players, including Tottenham trio Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier. The latest name on the lips of England supporters, though, is Manchester United starlet Marcus Rashford. The 18-year-old only made his first-team debut in February, but has already made a sizable impact. And last Friday against Australia he continued to make waves with a goal three minutes into his international debut.
That helped persuade coach Roy Hodgson to name Rashford in his final 23-man squad for Euro 2016 on Wednesday, leaving out Leicester City’s Premier League winning midfielder Danny Drinkwater and selecting only three center-backs. But Hodgson, defying his reputation as a cautious coach, has stressed his belief that England’s path to success in France will come through putting a focus on their attacking talent.
“It became a question of do I take the extra attacker or midfielder? That's how Rashford came about," Hodgson said ahead of the match with Portugal, reports BBC Sport.
“Often in a tournament the players that get injured or suffer a lack of form are the guys at the cutting edge, the guys who make the difference or score the goals. Systems win you nothing and football players win you games," he said. "If they perform anything like they're capable of we'll be a tough team to beat.”
After recovering from his FA Cup final exploits and only coming off the bench for the second half against Australia, Wayne Rooney will return to the starting lineup as captain on Thursday. Rooney won’t, though, be going up against his former Manchester United teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. The three-time Ballon d’Or winner has been given time off following his role in Real Madrid’s win in the Champions League final on Saturday.
In what could be the 31-year-old’s last chance to play in a major tournament still at, or close to, his prime, coach Fernando Santos has stated that he and the players believe Portugal can go all the way in France. Their form under Santos in qualifying was certainly impressive, finishing the campaign with seven successive victories after the former Greece coach took over from Paulo Bento.
While Ronaldo won’t be at Wembley, another former Manchester United winger should be in action, with Nani free to appear after his participation in the Turkish Cup final with Fenerbahçe. There are several other players in the Portuguese squad with experience of English football too, in Southampton defensive duo Cédric and José Fonte, former Chelsea center-back Ricardo Carvalho and one-time Swansea City forward Eder.
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1