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England manager Gareth Southgate has backed Marcus Rashford to fill the boots of the injured Harry Kane as they prepare for the World Cup with friendlies against Holland and Italy.
Kane will miss both games due to an ankle injury but the England boss is certain that Manchester United starlet Rashford is ready to shine in the international cauldron.
“He’s a player who belongs on the big stage,” said Southgate of the 20-year-old striker who has two goals so far in his brief England career. “I think we have quite a few players with that X-factor, and certainly Marcus is a player we believe in.
“The thing about him is his mentality. He’s got a top mentality, which is what we saw in Kane at that age. I also think he’s mentally tough. The kids at Manchester United are brought up to play in front of 70,000 people, so the big games don’t faze them. That is part of the deal with playing for England.”
Southgate is adamant that selecting the young talents of English football is the right road for the future and has called up Under-20 World Cup-winning captain Lewis Cook, who has been so impressive at Bournemouth.
When the England manager was asked whether fans can “dare to dream” at the World Cup this summer, his answer was fascinating.
“I think it depends what you dream is,” he said with a smile. “But I think we know where we are – we’re a team ranked 16th in the world at the moment.
“We’re a team that we know is developing but we’re not at the stage of Brazil and Germany, who have had a consistency of selection.
“That’s because we feel our young players are so exciting that we should push them ahead, because we feel in the mid-to-long term that’s going to give us a better chance of winning things.
“That’s not to put a limit on what is possible this summer but I’ve got to be realistic about the number of caps and the ages of the team – and what our expectations should be. But I’m excited by the players we’ve got.”
Jack Wilshere is likely to play after his recall, while a surprise selection in the squad was midfi elder Jake Livermore, who has been struggling to get in the West Brom side.
The England manager said this was a message to all his players about the character and attitude he demands, recalling how Livermore pulled out of a family holiday to join the squad last time after a late call-up.
“It’s very straightforward for me,” explained Southgate.
“Jake left his family at the airport just as he was about to board a plane with them and joined us – and played really well against Brazil and Germany.
“I think that has to carry some weight when you are building the spirit and culture around your team.
“I think that sort of example of sacrifi cing what you are doing for the team is important.”