Manchester United prodigy Marcus Rashford is expected to make his senior England debut as Roy Hodgson finalises his Euro 2016 plans with a friendly against Australia.
Sunderland’s Stadium of Light will likely play host to the crowning moment of Rashford’s sensational breakthrough season, which has seen him vaulted from unheralded youth-team player to United regular and now England wildcard in three short months.
Hodgson will be boosted by the arrival in camp of Rashford, as well as Manchester United colleagues Chris Smalling and England captain Wayne Rooney, with Liverpool’s contingent also joining up after the clubs’ respective FA Cup and Europa league involvement.
The game is England’s last before Hodgson must reduce his 26-man squad to a party of 23 for the trip to France.
Rooney will reportedly be trialled on the left side of a front three as Hodgson tries to fit the skipper into his tournament XI.
However, Rashford is likely to snatch the attention, provided he can recover from a slight knee problem.
Australia would be a fitting opponent for the youngster to make his bow against, given Rooney – now England’s leading scorer – made his first appearance for the national team as a 17-year-old in a 3-1 loss to the Socceroos at Upton Park in 2003.
The skipper is the only survivor in either squad from that surprise loss for Sven Goran Eriksson’s men, with Rashford perhaps poised to succeed him as a United and England lynchpin.
“I don’t really know what to expect from him,” Hodgson said of the 18-year-old.
“Don’t forget Rashford was a bit unlucky because the amount of time we are going to have with him is very short.
“There is no doubt I made the right decision putting him in this large group because the lad has enormous talent.
“You will know from my past record that I’m not afraid to give young players a chance and I don’t dismiss them on the basis of their age, but you will also know that in the position he plays we have a lot of competition for places.
“There isn’t an awful lot of chance for him to stamp his authority on myself and the coaching staff when there is such a short period of time.
“But I am ruling nothing out. I thought his performance in the FA Cup final was very good. I’m delighted I shall be seeing him and then we will have to wait to see whether I will be seeing a lot more of him in the summer.”
Australia’s squad includes four uncapped players as Ange Postecoglou assesses his options ahead of their final round of World Cup qualifiers.
The Socceroos begin the phase with a home game against Iraq, while Japan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are also likely to pose tough tests on the road to Russia.
Massimo Luongo is one of eight British-based players in the squad and is excited about the opportunity to display the Socceroos’ attacking prowess.
“They do expose themselves because of the attacking ability they have. Which we can expose at times,” Luongo said.
“That’s our strengths – boys getting in the pockets and turning them, getting them running back to their own goal.
“We haven’t come up against a side this highly ranked … for a long time, so it’s a good test to see how far we’ve come.”