England's Southgate hails improved Rashford as 'different player' after Wales double

Rashford's brace against Wales took his tally at 2022 World Cup to three and set up a last-16 showdown against Senegal

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England manager Gareth Southgate praised goal hero Marcus Rashford as the striker continued his renaissance by firing his country into the last 16 of the World Cup on Tuesday.

Rashford's brace in the 3-0 win against Wales was his third of the tournament having also netted in the 6-2 rout of Iran and ensured England finished top of Group B and set up a showdown against Senegal on Sunday.

The 25-year-old Manchester United striker's revival in Qatar is all the more impressive considering he was by no means a certainty to even make Southgate's World Cup squad when it was announced.

Rashford's free kick early in the second half broke Wales' stubborn resistance, while the second was perhaps more to type, as he cut inside and found the net with a sharp finish between the goalkeeper's legs.

As he raised his arms to the heavens in celebration, which he later explained was because a close friend had recently died, the image stood in contrast to last year, when Rashford's form faltered heading into the delayed Euro 2020.

He then largely played a support role at the tournament, which ended with him missing a penalty in the final shoot-out against Italy.

"It's been a challenge for him," said Southgate after handing Rashford his first start since June last year.

"I went and saw him in the summer and had a long chat, he had some clear ideas on what he felt he needed to do and you can see with his club, that has shown itself with us. We have a different player to the Euros.

"It's great for him and great for us."

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The forward is now the joint top scorer at the World Cup alongside ylian Mbappe, Enner Valencia and Cody Gakpo.

"Moments like this, this is what I play football for. The biggest moments, the best moments," Rashford said after England topped their World Cup group for the first time since 2006.

Rashford's selection was also a vindication for Southgate, who rang the changes, drafting in the Manchester United forward and Phil Foden in place of Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka.

Foden was a busy presence on the flank, especially in the second half when he switched sides with Rashford, and grabbed England's second goal, a tap-in from a Harry Kane cross.

“In moments I thought both of them [Rashford and Foden] were a bit quiet in the first half," Southgate said.

"We decided to switch wings and we thought that might allow them to go on the outside but also the chance to come in and they responded really well. And of course for them both to get the goals is great."

Wales’ first World Cup since 1958 ended in devastating fashion at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.

Robert Page’s side finished bottom of Group B with one point from three games – a 1-1 draw with the United States preceding a 2-0 defeat to Iran.

Captain Gareth Bale, who pushed away a cameraman at the final whistle who got too close to him, told the BBC: “Everyone’s disappointed but we’re all proud of what we’ve achieved to get here.

Wales' Gareth Bale and Joe Rodon look dejected after the match. Reuters

“We have to look how far we’ve come. Of course we wanted to get out of the group, but football’s difficult.

“We didn’t live up to our expectations at this tournament.

“If you’d told us two years ago that we would play in a World Cup, we’d have all pinched ourselves.

“We’ll all walk out of that changing room with our held high and proud of each other.

“It’s been difficult at this tournament, we haven’t played very well. But we’ve given everything and we won’t have any regrets.”

The 33-year-old, making a record 111th Wales appearance, did not reappear for the second half with Wales boss Robert Page saying he had been “struggling with his hamstring”.

But Bale, who had little game time for his American club Los Angeles FC ahead of the World Cup, stressed that he has no thoughts about ending his international career.

He said: “I’ll keep going as long as I can and as long as I’m wanted.

“It’s a difficult moment now but we go again in March.”

Wales start Euro 2024 qualifying against Croatia in Split on March 25.

Updated: November 30, 2022, 8:19 AM