MARCUS RASHFORD started the evening having his name playfully booed by a few hundred Leeds United supporters in the Gelderd End.
The Manchester United forward ended it having possibly played his way into England’s starting XI for the World Cup opener against Tunisia.
Quite a night for someone who has looked totally bereft of confidence under Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford, a point underlined by a performance in last month’s FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea that suggested Rashford was carrying the weight of the footballing world on his shoulders.
The contrast between that insipid Wembley display in the red of United and how he performed sporting the red of England at Elland Road could not have been more marked.
Not only was Rashford’s all-round general play in a comfortable victory for the Three Lions of the highest order, with one outrageous two-touch shimmy and shuffle that left Kendall Waston bewildered early on drawing appreciative gasps from the sell-out 36,104 crowd.
But the manner of Rashford’s stunning opening goal against Costa Rica showed he could be just the man to unlock even the tightest of defences – a trait that can make all the difference in a major tournament.
Collecting a short pass 25 or so yards out, he realised straight away defender Francisco Calva had no intention of closing him down.
Two touches later, the ball was sailing past Keylor Navas courtesy of a quick swish of the right boot that left the Real Madrid goalkeeper a helpless spectator as the net bulged.
A little under 23 years earlier, one of the most famous Premier League goals of all-time had been scored at the same end of Leeds’s home by Tony Yeboah.
Rashford’s first international goal for nine months may not have quite matched that strike but the quality of the finish was sufficient to surely give manager Gareth Southgate plenty to ponder ahead of next week’s flight to Russia.
The manner of Rashford’s stunning opening goal against Costa Rica showed he could be just the man to unlock even the tightest of defences – a trait that can make all the difference in a major tournament.Richard Sutcliffe
Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling, both rested last night, seem to be England’s first-choice attacking duo but Rashford has to be in with a serious chance of facing Tunisia on June 18.
He certainly delivered where Sterling had tellingly failed in last Saturday’s 2-1 win over Nigeria, the Manchester City man having squandered a host of gilt-edged chances in an otherwise lively attacking display.
Rashford’s strike was the clear highlight of another encouraging display by a much-changed England side that featured those largely in the ‘possibles’ camp rather than ‘probables’ going into the World Cup.
Only Jordan Henderson and John Stones of the starting XI can be considered near certain starters when the ‘real’ action gets under way in 10 days’ time but plenty gave their own cases a boost.
Fabian Delph, serenaded with a chant of ‘you’re Leeds and you know you are’ when taking an early corner, was lively on the ball and linked up well with Danny Rose.
The Doncaster-born full back had made headlines on the morning of the Costa Rica match after bravely opening up on his battle with depression.
He followed that by underlining why many believe Rose to be a much better fit on the left flank than the predominantly right footed Ashley Young, who admittedly put in a solid display against Nigeria last Saturday at Wembley.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek also impressed, while Jack Butland, another back at Elland Road after a testing loan spell in 2014, denied Johan Venegas with a wonderful save in the first half.
That came after both Rashford’s early stunner and the otherwise quiet Jamie Vardy having a shot smothered at close range by Navas.
The Costa Rica goalkeeper was also called into action 10 minutes after the restart, Henderson’s thunderbolt from the edge of the area smartly turned away.
From the resulting corner, former Sheffield United and Hull City defender Harry Maguire powered a header goalwards that Bryan Oviedo cleared off the line and then substitute Kieran Trippier curled a free-kick inches wide.
Trippier was among the first swathe of what became an avalanche of substitutes and the game suffered from the disruption.
Nevertheless, England finished strongly as Danny Welbeck doubled the hosts’ advantage 15 minutes from time.
A close range header brought the Arsenal striker his 16th international goal – and his first since September’s 4-0 qualifying victory over Malta – but it owed a huge debt to the wily play of Dele Alli amid a sea of white shirts.
Victory meant a notable international double for Leeds, England’s cricketers having won by an innings against Pakistan at Headingley five days earlier.
Last night’s triumph may have not been on a par with that fine showing across the city by Joe Root and his players in front of an appreciative Yorkshire audience.
But the Three Lions’ efforts, coming on the back of a series of improving displays under Southgate, did at least bode well for the challenges that lay ahead in Russia.
England: Butland (Pope 64); Jones, Stones (Cahill 64), Maguire; Alexander-Arnold (Trippier 64), Loftus-Cheek (Lingard 79), Henderson (Alli 64), Delph, Rose; Rashford, Vardy (Welbeck 61). Unused substitutes: Pickford, Heaton, Walker, Dier, Kane, Sterling, Young, Lallana, Livermore.
Costa Rica: Navas; Waston, Gonzalez, Calvo; Gamboa (Smith 71), Venegas (Bolanos 61), Guzman (Tejeda 68), Borges, Campbell, Oviedo (Matarrita 60); Urena. Unused substitutes: Pemberton, Moreira, Acosta, Duarte, Colindres, Ruiz, Wallace, Azofeifa.
Referee: Hiroyuki Kimura (Japan).