Sterling shines as England crash Czech Republic
Now we should start calling him a national treasure, his status as England’s main man established on a glorious night at Wembley.
Raheem Sterling scored a hat trick, his first in an England shirt to make it 24 goals in all competitions this season and when his name was read out as man of the match the whole stadium rose to its feet and cheered.
We must now move away from the narrative that he does not get enough credit because he really does, everyone can see he is England’s best player right now and the driving force behind Manchester City’s title charge.
Sterling was bright, unstoppable and full of goals. He was on a different level to every other player on the pitch and, after his second goal, he lifted up his shirt to reveal a T-shirt to pay tribute to a tragic young fan who passed away this week.
City star Sterling has become a unifying figure both on and off the pitch, a hero for modern times and one who has the ability to excite and entertain as well as being a wonderful role model.
The most incredible thing is that a while ago Sterling could not buy a goal for England and his double in Spain in the Nations League in October were his first goals for his country for three years.
Now Sterling just cannot stop and the amazing thing is that this team feeds off his energy, Harry Kane was terrific around him, picking passes and finding angles.
England found a new hero in Jadon Sancho, the 18-year-old made his first competitive start for his country and yet looks every inch the modern footballer, clever passes, assists and never wastes the ball.
These were the first steps on the road to Euro 2020 which is supposed to the tournament when football really does come home and Gareth Southgate has a squad which is really going places.
They are bright, sharp and full of energy with a blend of youth and experience and, even missing key players like John Stones and Marcus Rashford, they were far too good for a Czech side horribly out of their depth.
England already look well placed this year to qualify from their Group, they have the Nations League finals coming up this summer and we should be enthused by Southgate’s young side.
They took no time at all to get going. Even after Eric Dier went off injured, on came Ross Barkley to provide more forward drive from midfield and were ahead after 24 minutes.
Kane’s wonderful reverse pass unlocked the visiting defence and sent Sancho scampering down the right. Sancho’s inch-perfect cross found Sterling storming in at the back post and he was never going to miss.
England got a second in first-half injury time when, sure enough, it was an Alli flick which put in Sterling and his directness panicked the Czech defence and Tomas Kalas and Pavel Kaderabek blocking him off as they conceded a penalty.
Up stepped Kane to drive the ball home from the penalty spot, his shot so powerful that Czech keeper Jiri Pavlenka got a hand to it but could not keep it out.
The Czechs tried to make a game of it after the break but Sterling finished off the visitors after 61 minutes. Kane supplied the pass, Sterling, the wonderful turn and clever finish.
Sterling got his hat trick after 68 minutes when his shot from the edge of the box took a wicked deflection off Ondrej Celustka and left the keeper wrong-footed. But there is no way that you can take that goal from him.
Two minutes later Sterling went off to a standing ovation, making way for teenager Callum Hudson-Odoi. Kalas completed the embarrassment for the Czechs as he put through his own net after Hudson-Odoi’s shot was saved. What a big night for England.
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