Stellar Sterling stars as England cruise past Czech Republic


England 5

Czech Republic 0

If this is a sign of England’s future, then Raheem Sterling will undoubtably play a key role in success for the Three Lions. The Manchester City star was untouchable, dancing beyond defenders with ease and also bagging a scintillating hat-trick, as England comfortably brushed aside the Czech Republic 5-0 in their first Euro 2020 qualifier at Wembley.

Gareth Southgate said in the build-up to the clash that there was “excitement” running through his squad, in yet another exciting indication that this youthful England side possesses almost-unlimited potential. This new-look side aren’t here to simply fill the numbers anymore. They welcome a scrap, but are also capable of stringing together flowing moves to carve open their opponents. No matter the type of game, England have as good a chance as any to emerge on top.

But against the Czechs, the Three Lions weren’t forced to work hard for their victory. A slick first-half showing eased Southgate’s men into total control; two shots on target, two goals. The irrepressible Sterling provided a constant outlet for the hosts, and had even added a trio to his performance by the full-time whistle. Jadon Sancho also starred on the right flank, even chipping in with an inch-perfect assist. Harry Kane was typically polished in his lone striker role, despite also dropping into a deeper-lying role to dictate the speed of England’s forays forward.

The dynamic trio linked up several times in the game’s early stages, but were often lacking the final, incisive pass. The hosts’ frustration was further compounded with the forced withdrawal of Eric Dier on 17 minutes, although West Ham’s Declan Rice remained among the substitutes with Ross Barkley instead introduced.

With the arrival of the Chelsea midfielder came increased attacking impetus from England, who duly opened the scoring just seven minutes later.

The move was deliciously simple; Kane’s pass into the inside-right channel was superbly weighted and picked out the ghosting run of Sancho. The Borussia Dortmund youngster burst forward and rolled the ball across the face of goal for Sterling, who made no mistake in burying beyond Jiri Pavlenka from close range. Sancho had flickered in and out of the occasion, but his hand in England’s opening goal of the night visibly provided the winger with a well-deserved confidence boost.

The 18-year-old once again weaved his way through the Czech ranks on 39 minutes, pirouetting coolly down the flank to earn England a corner. The hosts’ set-piece caused mayhem inside the penalty area, which resulted in a snapshot from Kane being hurriedly hacked away from six yards.

The Tottenham frontman again chanced his arm on the stroke of half-time, but saw an audacious chip in the direction of the top-left corner deflect behind.

Just as it appeared both sides were trudge into the interval with England a single goal to the good, Sterling’s intervention earned the Three Lions a penalty one minute inside the additional time. A clever back heel from Dele Alli forced Sterling to chase the loose ball inside the box, and the City wideman’s run was ruled to have been blocked off by a combination of Pavel Kaderabek and Tomas Kalas.

Kane stepped up from 12 yards and duly blasted the spot-kick beyond Pavlenka to double England’s lead before the break.

But the hosts’ lead was almost immediately halved just minutes after the restart. A free-kick from the right channel was whipped into a crowded England penalty area, and Tomas Soucek’s diving header drifted agonisingly wide of Jordan Pickford’s right-hand post.

David Pavelka’s first-time shot soon after was weak and comfortably gathered by Pickford, in what would be the visitors’ last notable chance on goal.

England regained control of proceedings in their next attack, which inadvertently resulted in the ball smashing off Alli and deflecting inches over the crossbar. The Spurs man regained possession on 59 minutes and sent Sterling away into space. The winger in turn picked out Kane on the overlap, and the striker played the ball to Sancho, whose snatched effort clipped off Filip Novak before cannoning off Alli and looping over from a couple of yards.

The next touch from an England attacker was infinitely more measured, however. Pinball inside the Czech penalty area resulted in Sterling finding himself with space to shoot, and the winger wonderfully dispatched a bending finish inside the far post.

Rice was soon introduced, in the 20-year-old’s first international cap for the Three Lions since pledging his long-term future to Southgate’s side.

But it was Sterling who once again seized the eyes of the nation; rounding off his hat-trick in a slightly fortunate style. The City star cut inside from the left and let loose an effort, which deflected off the back of Ondrej Celustka and wrong-footed Pavlenka.

That would be Sterling’s last moment of magic, with Callum Hudson-Odoi replacing the hat-trick hero with 20 minutes remaining.

And as England eased towards a comprehensive victory, the hosts would once again find the back of the net. The Chelsea youngster drifted powerfully into the box and looked to curl a strike into the far corner. Pavlenka did well to palm the ball away, but could only watch on helplessly as the rebound clipped against Kalas and spun in.

Five goals for England, and three for a sumptuous Sterling showing. England will now turn their attentions to a showdown with Montenegro on Monday night, but judging by this performance, both individually and collectively, the sky is truly the limit for Southgate’s blossoming side.


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