Marcus Rashford says he would volunteer to take a kick in a penalty shootout at the World Cup and is actively hoping the scenario arises, as he reflected on his remarkable comeback story.
The England forward missed in the shootout defeat against Italy in the Euro 2020 final and endured racist abuse on social media. He then laboured sorely at Manchester United last season, also losing his place in the England squad.
Injuries were a factor; he underwent shoulder surgery in August of last year. But after a reset over the summer, when he pushed himself through a punishing fitness regime, he has recovered his form, scoring vital Premier League goals to earn the recall from Gareth Southgate.
Rashford scored within seconds of coming on as a substitute in England’s 6-2 win against Iran in their World Cup opener – his first involvement since the penalty miss against Italy – and he is champing at the bit to feature in their final group-phase tie against Wales on Tuesday.
Rashford’s confidence is back, as evidenced by his reply to the question about whether he would have any doubts over stepping up again in a shootout.
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“No, not at all,” he said. “They are big moments and, as an individual, I’ve always been comfortable with them. I enjoy being in big moments so I’m hoping that we get to take another penalty in the tournament. I’m looking forward to it.”
Southgate introduced Rashford from the bench in England’s second game – the 0-0 draw against the USA on Friday – playing him off the right, as he had done against Iran. Rashford prefers to play off the flanks but he would jump at the chance to start at centre-forward against Wales if Southgate chose to rest Harry Kane. England need only to avoid a four‑goal defeat in order to qualify and Kane has had a knock to the top of his foot.
“Everyone’s ready and I’m raring to go,” Rashford said. “We are on the biggest stage in the world and it’s an opportunity for all of us to go and take. I’ve been on the bench but you’re waiting for your opportunity.
“We are not disjointed as a collective and, in tournament football, that is needed because it’s going to be the squad that wins. It’s impossible for us to win the tournament just off our starting players. There is a huge sense of togetherness and belief that we can go a long way.”
England were booed off by some fans after the USA game when the performance was flat. But Rashford offered a reminder that results had to be the priority. “As players, we always want to play our best football but it’s not possible,” he said.
“You have to learn to win games when you’re not playing well because it’s unrealistic to think you’re going to play your best every single game.
“It’s not a nice feeling [to be booed] but you don’t need fans to boo us to know we’ve not played as well as we could have. It was a feeling that was mutual and it’s not just the players that started, it’s the full group.
“You do sometimes question whether you would have changed things in the lead‑up to a game but that’s natural because as players you want to win as many games as you can. We can’t be so negative about it. We are in a good position and we just need to win against Wales. It’s not often teams win all three group games.”
Rashford won the first of his 48 caps under Roy Hodgson in May 2016 and he was involved at Euro 2016, which ended in the humiliating defeat against Iceland. Hodgson departed thereafter. Rashford said that Southgate had greatly improved the setup – beginning with the work on the training pitch.
“Training’s been good here for the lads who haven’t been getting as many minutes,” he said. “But I feel for this squad it’s never been an issue, especially since Gareth’s been managing. Maybe before it was a bit of an issue in terms of quality of training and people’s dedication to training.
“I was only there for a short period of time before [Southgate] but the standard of training wasn’t as high. For players it’s black and white. If you aren’t training well, you can’t expect to play well or go into games and win just because you think you are better players. You have to put the work in and earn the right to win matches. For me it’s two different sides of a coin.
“I don’t think it takes a genius to see how we’ve improved since 2016. You cannot really compare the two situations and you cannot compare the feeling around the camp.
We’re a really strong team. We don’t fear anybody. It’s up to us to prove we have what it takes to win the World Cup. Do I believe we have? Yes.”