England set for Portugal dress rehearsal

London (AFP) – England manager Roy Hodgson could reveal his hand ahead of Euro 2016 when his side tackle Portugal at Wembley on Thursday in their final pre-tournament warm-up match.

Hodgson finalised his 23-man squad for the campaign on Tuesday, including 18-year-old Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford and cutting loose Leicester City’s Danny Drinkwater and Newcastle United’s Andros Townsend.

Rashford needed just 138 seconds to open his England account on his debut against Australia last Friday and midfielder Jordan Henderson has backed him to enjoy a distinguished international career.

“It reflects the season he’s had — he’s got no fear and wants the ball all the time in behind and it was a great finish from him,” said the Liverpool captain of the youngster’s adroit volley.

“Marcus is good on the ball, he’s got good movement, his finishing is very good for a young lad. He’s got everything. 

“He needs to continue to work hard and I’m sure he will do. He’ll be a very big player for Manchester United and England.”

Having tested his options in the 2-1 friendly victories over Turkey and Australia, Hodgson is expected to align something approaching his preferred starting XI against Portugal.

He has tested both a 4-4-2 formation with a midfield diamond and a 4-3-3 system, with the former configuration expected to hold sway for England’s opening Euro 2016 game against Russia on June 11.

With Rashford due to provide an option from the bench, Thursday’s game may reveal how Hodgson intends to fit captain Wayne Rooney and in-form strikers Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy into his starting XI.

One option would be to use Rooney, who has been playing in midfield for United, as a number 10, with Tottenham Hotspur striker Kane and Leicester sensation Vardy ahead of him.

But he could elect to use Rooney as an out-and-out striker next to Kane, which would leave Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana, Dele Alli and Ross Barkley to fight it out for the number 10 position.

– Ronaldo absent –

Hodgson’s line-up could also give a clue as to who out of Chelsea’s Gary Cahill and Everton’s John Stones will partner United’s Chris Smalling in central defence in France.

England travel to their Chantilly base camp on Monday, when they will begin preparations to face Russia, Slovakia and neighbours Wales in Group B.

Thursday’s game will be the first meeting between the countries since Portugal defeated England on penalties at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Cristiano Ronaldo played a key role that day in Gelsenkirchen, controversially imploring the referee to send off United team-mate Rooney for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho and then netting the decisive penalty.

But he will not feel the wrath of the Wembley crowd as he has been granted time off after netting the winning spot-kick in Real Madrid’s penalty shootout win over Atletico Madrid in Saturday’s Champions League final.

In Ronaldo’s absence, Portugal strolled to a 3-0 friendly win over Norway in Porto on Sunday and coach Fernando Santos hit out at journalists afterwards for continually asking him about his absent talisman.

“I don’t understand why we always have to talk about Ronaldo,” said Santos, whose side will face Iceland, Austria and Hungary in Group F at Euro 2016.

“I’m not in the least bit worried about him. He’ll be here next week with the goal of helping Portugal have a great Euro 2016. The rest is just journalist talk.”

Portuguese press reports suggest that Ronaldo’s former United colleague Nani will be handed an attacking role alongside Sporting Braga’s Rafa Silva against England.

Portugal, whose final warm-up match is against Estonia in June 8, will also be without Ronaldo’s Real Madrid teammate Pepe.

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