Marcus Rashford continues fairytale rise in England win
Marcus Rashford's extraordinary rise shows no sign of abating, with the teenager's volley on his England debut helping to down Australia and boost his Euro 2016 chances.
There are fairytale ascents and then there is an 18-year-old breaking into the first team at Manchester United, winning the FA Cup and becoming the Three Lions' youngest goalscoring debutant in the space of 92 days.
Rashford has flourished since being thrust into the spotlight in late February and opened his England account in style, capitalising on Daniel Sturridge's absence as Roy Hodgson's side defeated Asian champions Australia 2-1 in Sunderland.
A calf strain kept the oft-injured Sturridge out at the Stadium of Light and his teenage replacement shone on his international audition, volleying home impressively after just two minutes and 18 seconds.
The Liverpool striker's latest setback and Rashford's man-of-the-match display gives Hodgson a selection headache ahead of whittling his squad down to 23 on Tuesday, but there is no doubt about Wayne Rooney's place in France.
Brought off the bench at half-time, England's all-time top scorer gleefully collected a pass from Raheem Sterling and rifled into the top corner.
More hairy moments at the back shows there still remains fine-tuning, though, epitomised by substitute Eric Dier directing Milos Degenek's cross past his own goalkeeper following a potential injury to stand-in captain Chris Smalling.
The win was harder than had been expected against the side ranked 50th in the world as Hodgson tried different combinations in England's second home match away from Wembley since 2007.
John Stones, Jack Wilshere and Sterling were the only survivors from Sunday's 2-1 win against Turkey in Manchester, with Rashford thrown in from the outset after Sturridge failed to recover from a calf strain.
Just like at United, he capitalised on his fortune in style, taking a mere 138 seconds to net his maiden international goal.
Having played the ball to Sterling and then seen the resulting cross deflect off Bailey Wright, Rashford showed no little skill and composure to volley the ball into the ground and past Mat Ryan.
It was a magical start to the night but England were unable to follow it up, too often giving up possession and struggling to make a telling pass. When they did in the 15th minute, Rashford's heavy touch prevented him getting a shot away.
Stones did well to block Australia's own debutant Jamie Maclaren at the other end, before Smalling, captaining his country for the first time, raced across his path to head over his own goal.
The Socceroos were making England's defence look vulnerable, although the hosts upped the ante as half-time approached.
Ryan blocked a close-range Adam Lallana effort and thwarted Sterling after a lovely, clipped Wilshere pass before Australia's talented goalkeeper produced an acrobatic stop to deny Jordan Henderson, who was a ball boy when England last played at the Stadium of Light in 2003.
England moved the ball quicker after half-time but they still looked shaky, with a mix-up between Stones and Smalling leading to some anxious moments.
Tom Rogic struck over as the visitors looked to draw parity, only for England to pull further ahead in the 55th minute.
Henderson's pass ran through to Sterling on the left and the Manchester City man raced forwards, drawing in Wright and gifting Rooney acres of space. England's all-time top scorer received the pass and rifled home with aplomb.
The 30-year-old then just failed to connect with a low cross from Rashford - the youngster's final action before being withdrawn to a standing ovation.
Nathaniel Clyne tried his luck from the edge of the box and James Milner whipped a strike wide of the far post, although things at the back were still looking uncertain.
Smalling went off appearing to hold his hamstring and defensive midfielder Dier was brought on in his place.
Usually adept at centre-back, within two minutes of coming on he beat Fraser Forster as Tomi Juric's presence saw him turn home a Degenek cross.
That moment compounded existing fears about England's strength at the back, but they saw out the remainder of the match without much fuss as Newcastle's Andros Townsend tried to make an impact and Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton came on for a brief debut.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
Wow! The incredible rise of #MarcusRashford continues. Brilliant goal on his @England debut. Congratulations!" - Alan Shearer (@alanshearer), who knew a thing or two about scoring for England, gave his view on the man of the moment.
Fraser Forster: 6 (out of 10)
Nathaniel Clyne: 6
Chris Smalling: 7
John Stones: 6
Ryan Bertrand: 6
Jordan Henderson: 6
Jack Wilshere: 5
Danny Drinkwater: 5
Adam Lallana: 7
Marcus Rashford: 7
Raheem Sterling: 6
James Milner: 6
Eric Dier: 4
Andros Townsend: 6
Wayne Rooney: 7
Ross Barkley: 6
Tom Heaton: 6
Matthew Ryan: 6
Joshua Risdon: 6
Bailey Wright: 4
Mark Milligan: 4
Brad Smith: 5
Mile Jedinak: 6
Massimo Luongo: 4
Aaron Mooy: 6
Tomas Rogic: 7
Robbie Kruse: 5
Jamie Maclaren: 6
Matthew McKay: 5
Christopher Ikonomidis: 5
Tomi Juric: 6
Milos Degenek: 7
Jackson Irvine: 5
Craig Goodwin: 5
Rashford might not have put together 63 flawless minutes of football on his debut but for impact, sheer excitement and the promise of future riches he was the evening's headline act. Merely getting on the scoresheet so early into the biggest night of his fledgling career was impressive enough, but some of his movement and off-the-ball running also hinted at a player of real substance.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH:
How could it be anything other than Rashford's fairy tale introduction to the international stage? Francis Jeffers may also have scored on his debut against Australia but the give-and-go pass, instinctive movement and finish here suggested Rashford is destined for greater things.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Hodgson was utterly inscrutable as Rashford's volley nestled, but he must have been brimming with excitement as his teenage 'bolter' delivered the goods. His decision to introduce Wayne Rooney as a central striker, rather than a deeper role, also paid early dividends.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
Hodgson's decision to take just three centre-backs to France, backed up by the versatile Eric Dier, looked a risk from day one. Dier is a smart and resourceful player but his judgement was lacking when he stooped in front of Fraser Forster to nod the own-goal and questions will inevitably follow about his suitability.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
England v Portugal, Thursday, June 2 (Friendly)
Australia v Greece, Saturday, June 4 (Friendly)
Hodgson was coy when questioned on his potential 23-man squad but the England boss did hint that Rashford had more than staked his claim.
"It's fantastic. He did well and I'm pleased for him," said Hodgson.
"He obviously tired a bit in the second half, but that's pretty normal when you're playing your first game.
"I was asked before the game whether he would be capable of dealing with the situation and I think we got a resounding 'yes' to that question."
When asked whether the Manchester United striker had booked his place in France, Hodgson added: "Let's wait and see. I've got until Tuesday.
"He certainly wouldn't be out of place in anyone's 23. I've got some difficult decisions to make."
Henderson has also been impressed by the impact of Rashford. The Liverpool midfielder told ITV: "It's incredible really isn't it? That's just the season that he's had, he has no fear and wants the ball all the time, and to be fair it was a great finish.
"If he's given the opportunity I'm sure he'll do very well, but that's up to the manager."
Rashford could take the place of Sturridge when the final reckoning comes on Tuesday, with the Liverpool striker still struggling with a calf strain.
Hodgson, though, is hoping the 26-year-old is back training before he whittles the squad down.
Hodgson said: "It will be interesting to see how he goes over the weekend.
"I would hope he trains on Monday, if that's the case then the calf injury won't be a reason for me to leave him out of the squad and he will join the rest of the pool.
"None of the decisions will be injury-related."
Doubts were also lingering over the fitness of Henderson and Wilshere, but Hodgson says both midfielders have impressed.
He added: "We had slight fitness doubts over Jordan and Jack, but I think both of them have proven in their performances in training that they are ready right now and will get even more ready as we move forward."