Rashford scored twice in his best performance in an England shirt and Foden justified the pre-match clamour with the other goal, as England brushed aside Wales to set up a last-16 tie with Senegal on Sunday.
It would take a brave manager to drop either for England’s first-ever meeting with the African champions, but it would also be an enormous surprise if, for the first time, Southgate goes into a knockout game without Raheem Sterling in his side.
Sterling started every game on the run to the semi-final in Russia four years ago and was comfortably England’s best player at Euro 2020, proving decisive in the knockouts.
He opened the scoring in the win over Germany in the round-of-16, won the late penalty in the semi-final against Denmark and, in between, was excellent as England thrashed Ukraine 4-0.
Last night felt like a coming of age for both Rashford and Foden for their country, but history suggests Sterling is still the man for the big occasion.
Sterling and Rashford are both happiest playing from the left, leaving Southgate possibly facing a direct choice between the pair, despite last night’s game turning on his decision to swap his wingers at half-time.
Foden started on the right, with Rashford cutting inside from the left, but they were far more effective playing on their stronger feet in the second half, increasing Southgate’s options for Senegal.
The astute in-game tweak was a boost for the manager, who has been accused of being unable to impact the course of tight matches. Key in Southgate’s decision-making will be Senegal’s approach and he began assessing Aliou Cisse’s side on the team bus away from the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in the early hours, having been unable to watch any of their three group games.
Wales v England FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar | Group B Match | 29th November 2022
Rashford is at his most dangerous when racing beyond defences, as he did for an early chance from Harry Kane’s pass, while Sterling is a threat when running at defenders.
How the pair connect with the captain will also be a factor in the manager’s thinking. Rashford’s ability to break the lines makes him a useful foil for Kane, like Heung-min Son at Tottenham, but Sterling has always linked up well with the skipper, illustrated by his finish from Kane’s cross against Iran.
Perhaps crucially, Southgate believes England now have a “completely different” Rashford from the player who missed a penalty in the final of Euro 2020 and was subsequently exiled from the squad before his recall for Qatar.
The 25-year-old opened the scoring with a superb free-kick after Foden was fouled, and it took 93 seconds for England to double their lead. Rashford dispossessed Ben Davies, and Foden converted Kane’s cross at the far post. Rashford’s second was a left-foot finish through the legs of keeper Danny Ward after he had driven inside from the right.
If Southgate does decide on a choice between Rashford and Sterling, rather than simply playing them both, then he must also pick between the silky Foden and Bukayo Saka.
You want those sorts of decisions. We need strength in depth.
A week can feel like an age at World Cups, but it was just nine days ago that Saka scored twice against Iran — a much better side than Wales on the evidence of the finals — and the Arsenal winger has generally been more impressive in an England shirt than Foden, at least before last night.
“You want those sorts of decisions. We need strength in depth,” Southgate said. “It’s competition for places which we need, and people have to deliver.”
That Kane, who leads the way for assists at the World Cup with three, was not among England’s six scorers in the group should also be seen as a positive, given suggestions Southgate’s side are too reliant on him for goals.
Southgate has been widely expected to switch to a back three for the knockouts, but another decision from the manager against Senegal is whether to stick with the extra midfield protection provided by Jordan Henderson, whose steady presence next to Declan Rice allowed Jude Bellingham to push into a more advanced position.
Mason Mount, who started the first two games at No10, may ultimately be the loser from the change in system.
FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar | Best Images and Moments
Minutes for Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips, who impressed from the bench, also felt important.
“You never know when you need that depth,” Southgate said. “Different opponents require different qualities when we’re preparing the team.”
For Southgate, there are no easy answers, no obvious solutions but he can at least take comfort from knowing he will be scrutinised whatever he decides on Sunday.
“I’ve sort of worked out how all of this works,” he said on the eve of last night’s game. “If we change it, we shouldn’t have. If we win, it was justified. If we don’t, it wasn’t.”
Now the knockout football has begun, that is more true than ever.