How Manchester United's Marcus Rashford led by example as England head into Euro 2020 with cautious optimism after Romania win
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In seven days’ time England will open their campaign in the tournament we have waited over a year for. There is a sense of cautious optimism as the Three Lions prepare for Euro 2020. Now it gets serious.
Gareth Southgate’s side won the second of two friendlies at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium, courtesy of Marcus Rashford’s second-half penalty against Romania.
On a sunny day in Teesside, there was a feeling of excitement among fans, even if they had to wait for an opener.
After Wednesday’s game against Austria, when sections of the crowd booed players taking a knee before kick-off, there was more scrutiny on the pre-match proceedings.
And when players from both countries dropped to the turf here, the reaction was once again mixed. There was plenty of applause but also some boos in response to the gesture.
Here, England were captained by Rashford, a 23-year-old who has fought to end child poverty. It was hard to understand how some could boo as the Manchester United forward led his country with a message of solidarity.
Rashford was one of nine changes from the Austria match as Southgate rotated his side to manage his squad.
The changes saw regular captain Harry Kane drop to the bench. Dominic Calvert-Lewin started in the lone striker role, with Rashford, Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho behind him.
England hit the post twice in the first half, as Calvert-Lewin’s header hit the bar and Sancho curled an effort on to the woodwork.
Eventually the breakthrough came in the 67th minute as Grealish was fouled (again) in the box and Rashford converted the penalty.
The hosts squandered another chance from the spot when Jordan Henderson, who came off the bench at half-time, saw his effort saved.
Southgate’s side weren’t overly convincing at the back, either, and had goalkeeper Sam Johnstone to thank for an excellent save in the 78th minute.
With tougher opponents to come, England’s erratic backline is a concern.
Southgate stuck with a back four in a 4-2-3-1 formation, as Brighton’s Ben White, a player on the stand-by list, partnered Tyrone Mings at the back.
The loss of Trent Alexander-Arnold meant Everton’s Ben Godfrey, another player not included in the initial 26-man squad, started at right-back, while Kyle Walker and Reece James were given an additional recovery time following their involvement in the Champions League final.
England’s build-up play was patient and measured as they dominated possession and pinned Romania back in the first half.
United team-mates Luke Shaw and Rashford created some menacing overloads on the left, while Grealish and Sancho produced some neat link-up play, yet the Three Lions couldn’t find a breakthrough in the opening 45 minutes.
It was encouraging to see Henderson come off the bench, even if his spot kick was saved.
The midfielder took on Kalvin Phillips’ holding role at the break but was pushed further forward when Declan Rice was introduced.
Captaining his country for the first time, Rashford led by example.
The Manchester United forward was a threat with the ball at his feet when he could run at the Romania defence.
He calmly converted from the penalty spot.
England now have a week to prepare ahead of their Euro 2020 opener against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday, June 13.