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World Cup: Has ton-up Marcus Rashford timed it right for World Cup spot?

He hasn't played for England for over 15 months and as recently as the summer was pretty much an after-thought in World Cup conversations, but has Marcus Rashford played himself into position to be one of Gareth Southgate's starters in Qatar?

(This article was originally published on 31.10.2022)

It has been a torrid 12 months or so on the international stage for Rashford, whose last touch of the ball in England colours was hitting the post in the shootout of the Euro 2020 final against Italy at Wembley.

Rashford hung his head that night as England missed out by inches on their first piece of silverware since 1966, while many condemned the Manchester United ace to a future in the international wilderness - even at the then tender age of 23.

Southgate stood by him, picking him for last November's World Cup qualifiers, though injury ruled him out, but the England boss hasn't picked him since, saying in June he had "a lot of work to do" to get back in the squad.

Well, it looks like the work is being done and now, as Rashford celebrates his 25th birthday and 100 goals for United, a World Cup squad place beckons.

What:World Cup 2022
When:20th November - 18th December 2022
How to watch:All matches will be shown on either the BBC or ITV
Odds:Brazil 4/1, France 6/1, Argentina 13/2, England 7/1, Spain 8/1

Summertime blues for Rashford

Rashford's renaissance this season has been remarkable considering the lows of 2021-22, a season that began with THAT miss against the Italians.

He returned to United late as he recovered from shoulder surgery and continued to be plagued by accusations that he was focusing on his work away from his day job, as a free-school meals campaigner and standard-bearer for disillusioned and poverty-stricken youth.

Back on the pitch little clicked in a team lurching from crisis to crisis, first under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, then Ralf Rangnick.

He made only 13 league starts, scored just four goals, the swagger had gone and as United suffered so too did his World Cup chances as the likes of Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden stepped up to press their claims.

There was even talk of him leaving, with Barcelona rumoured to be among potential suitors. It would have been the saddest end to the briefest, brightest but ultimately disappointing United career - except that he wasn't done.

Ten Hag's arrival sparks Rashford revival

In came Erik ten Hag, out went the inhibitions, Rashford started to knuckle down with added competition for places coming from the likes of Antony and the ever-improving Anthony Elanga.

And the results have been hugely impressive with 11 starts in United's 12 Premier League matches, scoring four times, while three appearances have yielded three goals in the Europa League, helping the Red Devils progress in the competition.

Ten Hag, like several of his predecessors, has struggled to establish a single, nailed-down position for the exciting forward who has been deployed on the left, as centre-forward and in a No.10 role off Cristiano Ronaldo.

But rather than sulk or drift, Rashford has risen to the challenge and on Sunday scored his 100th goal for the club in the 1-0 win over West Ham.

And it wasn't any old goal, either; a towering, powering header from a player who can add 'late arriver' in the box to his burgeoning array of skills.

Southgate now has a decision to make

Suddenly Rashford is big news again, a box-office talent producing box-office performances.

But, having had so much time away from the England scene he's also got catching up to do to get firmly on to Southgate's radar.

You could argue not having had anything to do with England's last six matches - none of which they won - wasn't a bad move in itself.

And his performances at club level in the meantime have been winning the kinds of reviews that any manager cannot ignore.

But the truth is that in the likes of Raheem Sterling, Foden, Grealish, Saka, Mason Mount and more, England are not short of options out wide.

Yet there are clarion calls being sounded from places other than Manchester that Rashford doesn't just make the squad, but makes the starting XI, either flanking Harry Kane in a front three or on the left-side of a zippy trio behind the national skipper.

If we know anything about Southgate it's that he very much trusts his own instincts, his own opinions and he is loyal.

But he also said in the summer, specifically about Rashford, that he had time to play himself on to the plane for the World Cup. The question is; has he done enough to not only make the plane but maybe even make the team?

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