Marcus Rashford has night to forget in World Cup defeat to Belgium

by Leo Nieboer

Marcus Rashford spurned a glorious chance to write himself into the World Cup history books during a turgid 1-0 defeat to Belgium in Kaliningrad.

The 20-year-old was handed his first World Cup start as Gareth Southgate made eight changes to his starting XI, with opposite number Roberto Martinez making nine.

As a result the game had a meandering, disjointed feel, completely at odds with the sheer ferocity of the football seen in the group stages. And it was none other than former Manchester United youngster Adnan Januzaj – off the back of a rejuvenating season with Real Sociedad – who supplied the game’s only moment of quality with a sweet strike early in the second half.

England’s best move came when Jamie Vardy, with 20 minutes remaining, cleverly slipped the ball into Rashford’s path. The youngster had acres of space to run into, plenty of time to think, too much time perhaps.

As he approached Thibaut Courtois he opened his body up, looking to bend it round the Belgian. A nation held his breath as he struck it, and collectively exhaled in deflation as the shot flew wide. Painfully, miserably, predictably wide. The Chelsea keeper got the slightest of fingertips to it but the shot wasn’t on target anyway.

You felt in the pit of your stomach that he wouldn’t score it. Rashford, especially last season, has an unwelcome habit of spurning chances when he has too much time to think about them. That confidence just isn’t there. Seeing it go wide only compounded that notion. Had that gone in it may have served as a watershed moment for the youngster – a turning point ahead of next season.

That, above anything, was why that miss hurt so much from a Man United fan’s perspective. After a season of toil, consigned primarily to the bench and reduced of opportunities, Rashford needed a goal. He will have to score a dramatic winner against Colombia instead.

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