England manager Roy Hodgson has challenged Marcus Rashford to make his life difficult when the Manchester United sensation auditions for a Euro 2016 place in Friday’s friendly against Australia.
Rashford has emerged as a late contender for a seat on the flight to France after a fine breakthrough season with United, but the 18-year-old has only one chance to convince Hodgson he is worthy of being included in the final 23-man squad.
With Leicester striker Jamie Vardy set to miss the Australia clash due to his wedding on Wednesday, Hodgson has decided to give United forward Rashford his international debut at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light.
But Hodgson will announce the three players who have not made the cut for the tournament once the second of England’s warm-up fixtures is concluded and he hopes Rashford, who has recovered from a knee injury sustained in United’s FA Cup final win over Crystal Palace, puts himself in the frame with a strong showing.
“I don’t really know what to expect from him,” Hodgson said. “Don’t forget Rashford was a bit unlucky because the amount of time we are going to have with him is very short.
“There isn’t an awful lot of chance for him to stamp his authority on myself and the coaching staff when there is such a short period of time. But I’m ruling nothing out.
“There is no doubt I made the right decision putting him in this large group because the lad has enormous talent.
“I thought his performance in the FA Cup final was very good. I’m delighted I shall be seeing him and then we will have to wait to see whether I will be seeing a lot more of him in the summer.”
With the United and Liverpool players who missed Sunday’s 2-1 win over Turkey at Eastlands now available to Hodgson following their respective FA Cup and Europa League finals, the race is hotting up for those last berths at the Euros.
The return of Wayne Rooney after the FA Cup final raises the question of the England captain’s precise role in Hodgson’s team.
Rooney has been playing in midfield for United and Hodgson, who is likely to deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation in France, must decide whether he is now best used in the same role or if he should remain as a striker.
If Rooney is still regarded as a forward, he will likely be competing with Vardy and Harry Kane for the role of England’s spearhead.
Kane claimed the Premier League golden boot after netting 25 times for Tottenham last season and has already scored five times in 11 international appearances.
He opened the scoring against Turkey, then missed a penalty before Vardy netted the winner.
“When you have got a pair of strikers who have scored 25 and 24 Premier League goals it shows that we have top strikers,” Kane said.
“Obviously Wayne has been doing great in that deeper position, but we’ve all got to fight for places.”
Clashes between England and Australia are usually reserved for cricket and rugby and this is the old rivals’ first football encounter since the Socceroos’ 3-1 win at Upton Park in 2003.
Australia are in the midst of their qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup and, with star midfielder Tim Cahill absent due to club commitments, coach Ange Postecoglou will run the rule over some new faces.
Milos Degenek, Jamie Maclaren, Stefan Mauk and Craig Goodwin could all feature.
“This is another opportunity for the players to step up against a big football nation and show that our journey to make an impact on world football is heading in the right direction,” Postecoglou said.
“Australia against England is a massive part of the Australian sporting culture and it will be a fantastic opportunity for our players to experience that rivalry. It will be a special occasion.”