Marcus Rashford, Danny Rose make World Cup cases for England
LEEDS, England -- Three thoughts on England's 2-0 win vs. Costa Rica in an international friendly.
1. Rashford takes his chance but Vardy struggles
Marcus Rashford emphasised his ability to provide the X-factor for England at the World Cup with an outstanding goalscoring performance.
The Manchester United forward, who travelled to Euro 2016 as an 18-year-old, goes to Russia after a difficult campaign under Jose Mourinho but, having been handed a starting role by England manager Gareth Southgate against the 2014 World Cup quarterfinalists, showcased his attributes.
The highlight was a stunning 25-yard strike in the 13th minute, which left Costa Rica and Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas clutching at thin air. Energised by playing without the defensive demands placed upon him at club level, Rashford displayed pace, trickery and invention.
But while Rashford shone and gave his manager a selection dilemma ahead of England's opening game against Tunisia on June 18, strike partner Jamie Vardy struggled to make an impact. The Leicester forward has become an enigma for his country, unable to sufficiently reproduce his club form on the international stage.
Vardy's natural game is to play on the shoulder of the last defender and use his blistering pace to attack teams, but he has been marginalised by Harry Kane's position as first-choice striker. On Thursday, with Rashford dominating the ball in the final third, Vardy was unable to use his natural assets to make a final impression on Southgate and was replaced by Danny Welbeck on 61 minutes.
Three of Vardy's six England goals have come as a substitute, however, and it would seem that an impact role off the bench is his best hope over the coming weeks. But given Welbeck played that role to perfection by scoring a late header, even that is not guaranteed.
2. Rose edges ahead of Young in left-back battle
At the end of what has been a difficult campaign in terms of form and fitness for Tottenham, Danny Rose this week revealed he has suffered from depression, as well as the fact he has told his family not to travel to Russia due to safety concerns.
But the full-back, who was at Leeds as a youngster, was able to return to the England team at Elland Road and show that his focus on the pitch has been unaffected.
The left-back role, in which the 27-year-old performed, is one of the few areas of uncertainty for Southgate ahead of the World Cup, with Rose and Ashley Young the options to start.
Manchester United veteran Young has earned his place in the squad after an impressive campaign at Old Trafford but, while he has done well and justified his selection in Southgate's squad, Rose is a better option.
When fully fit, he simply offers more in terms of balance as a naturally left-footed player. Young, meanwhile, instinctively takes the ball onto his right and, against better opposition than Costa Rica, this could become a problem.
Though question marks remains over Rose because of his disrupted season at club level, he did enough in this game to at least banish any doubts of his fitness and focus.
3. Southgate's game plan proving effective
England go into the World Cup with expectation high that they will progress from Group G and make light work of their two opening games against Tunisia and Panama before they face Belgium in what should be a playoff for top spot.
But recent tournaments have shown that nothing can be taken for granted where; the U.S., Algeria, Costa Rica and Slovakia have all claimed group-stage draws against the 1966 World Cup winners, while Iceland's 2-1 win in the Euro 2016 Round of 16 will never be forgotten.
England have a tendency to under-estimate so-called lesser nations, but their performance in winning against Costa Rica, who were hand-picked as opponents in order to prepare Southgate's team for Panama, showed that they have the game plan to win games they should win.
Southgate's men took the initiative from the outset in this game and were commanding in possession. They played the game in the Costa Rica half and asserted themselves, with good tempo, as well as width and pace to get behind their opponents.
Rashford's early goal obviously helped but England showed confidence nonetheless and a belief that they would win. Tournament football is a different environment to a friendly international, but this performance in this was a huge positive ahead of the World Cup.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_