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Bellingham sparkles as England star takes centre stage at Euros

 Jude Bellingham celebrates after scoring for England. [AFP]

Jude Bellingham showed why he has been hailed as the key to England's Euro 2024 challenge with a masterful display capped by the winning goal in their 1-0 victory against Serbia on Sunday.

Bellingham arrived at the European Championship heralded as one of the world's best young players after enjoying the season of his life at Real Madrid.

The 20-year-old lived up to the hype as his influential performance ensured England started their bid for a first major trophy in 58 years in winning fashion at the Arena AufSchalke in Gelsenkirchen.

"It's really special to score any time for England, especially a match-winning goal and one that can hopefully help us do well in the tournament," he said.

From the moment he burst onto the scene at Birmingham aged just 16, Bellingham has been on a remarkable rise that shows no signs of abating.

Bellingham helped Madrid beat his former club Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final earlier in June and was named La Liga's Player of the Year after starring in the club's latest domestic triumph.

Bellingham's 19 league goals for Real this term showcased his transformation into a genuine penalty area threat, a valuable weapon along with his smooth passing and indefatigable work-rate.

He took just 13 minutes to underline the point in their Group C opener against Serbia.

Bellingham started the move in midfield with a measured pass to Kyle Walker before sprinting into the penalty area to meet Bukayo Saka's cross with a superb diving header that arrowed into the net from six yards.

After being mobbed by his team-mates, Bellingham showed his comfort in the spotlight, soaking up the adulation of the England supporters with his arms outstretched before running to the centre circle to whip up the fans at the other end.

"It's a great start for me personally. They give me a lot of appreciation and love. It's good to give that back," he said.

Scoring England's first goal of a major tournament is nothing new to Bellingham, who headed their opener against Iran at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Relentless Bellingham

Bellingham is the first European player to feature in three major tournaments before he turns 21 after previously playing at Euro 2020 and the last World Cup.

Having become the youngest Englishman to play at a major tournament four years ago, Bellingham is also the second man after Michael Owen to score at both the World Cup and European Championship before the age of 21.

Despite his tender age, Bellingham is already so influential for England that he was named part of boss Gareth Southgate's four-man 'leadership group' ahead of the tournament.

Serbia were completely unable to contain Bellingham and veteran Nemanja Gudelj earned a booking after resorting to a crude foul on the midfielder.

"I took a few kicks but it's something I have got used to. I feel like in every game I can make an impact, I can decide a game," he said.

With 56 touches in the first half -- compared to just two for England captain Harry Kane -- the relentless Bellingham was the Three Lions' driving force.

"I felt really good coming into the game. You could see I was enjoying it. I wanted to get on the ball and build some energy," Bellingham said.

England's Euro campaign was starting in what was once known as the 'city of a thousand fires'.

And Bellingham lit up the drab surrounds of Gelsenkirchen's industrial heartland in such vibrant fashion that it is hard to imagine England's stay in Germany being a slow burn.

He remained a blur of intelligent movement in the second half to keep Serbia at bay as England held on despite a nervy finish.

"This team is still so new, gelling together with every game," Bellingham said.

Fittingly, he departed to a standing ovation when he was substituted in the closing stages.

Bellingham already has a mural in his hometown of Stourbridge -- a tribute that might well be upgraded to a statue if England get their hands on the trophy in Berlin on July 14.

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