Gareth Southgate pays tribute to Raheem Sterling after England win

Manchester City player broke his duck by scoring first goal in a major tournament

England’s Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring the winner in their victory over Croatia at Euro 2020. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

England’s Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring the winner in their victory over Croatia at Euro 2020. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

 

Gareth Southgate paid tribute to Raheem Sterling after the winger’s first goal at a major tournament gave England a 1-0 win against Croatia in their opening game at Euro 2020.

England were the better team in sweltering conditions at Wembley and Sterling, whose place in the starting XI was up for debate after a difficult season for Manchester City, broke Croatia’s resistance on 57 minutes. It was a moment of personal significance for the forward, who could see Wembley from his house when he was growing up, and Southgate was delighted after watching his side beat their biggest rivals in Group D.

“I’m so pleased for Raheem to get the goal,” the England manager said. “He’s had this hex in tournaments. I thought he was dangerous all day. He’s a good player and his goalscoring record suggests we should have faith in him. He was motivated to show his value today. We know we’ll need all our attacking players through the tournament. We can make changes and we’ll need to.”

Sterling, who had failed to score in his three previous tournaments, rolled his eyes when asked whether he had justified Southgate picking him instead of Jack Grealish.

“It’s great to break that duck,” the 26-year-old said. “The most important thing is to win here. I am a person who’s hungry for goals. But I know the true value of the team. We dug in. I blocked the outside world off. I just try to focus on the tournament. I’m fully focused on the team. I haven’t listened to any of the outside noise.”

Southgate, who warned England not to become complacent before facing Scotland on Friday, pointed out that Sterling’s hunger for goals would lift the pressure on Harry Kane. “He’s been a reliable performer for us for a long period of time,” he said. “We can’t have all the burden of scoring on Harry’s shoulders.”

There was also an impressive display from Kalvin Phillips. The Leeds midfielder caught the eye with his energy and he made the difference for England with his assist for Sterling’s goal. “When we finished celebrating, Raheem said it’s the first time I’ve found him with a pass since I’ve been coming to England,” Phillips said. “I’m laidback, that’s the type of person I am. Whatever’s thrown at me I try to take in my stride.”

It was a solid performance from England, who had never won their opening game at any previous European Championship finals tournament. They restricted Croatia to few chances and Southgate was pleased with how his young players dealt with the occasion.

“Pressure is what we decide it to be,” he said. “We have the opportunity to be first to do things. We just focused on what this team is about. It’s for everyone else to get excited and throw their beer around. It’s brilliant to give joy to people but we’re preparing for a really tough game on Friday.

“This is the big challenge now. It’s a positive step in terms of qualification but one of the hardest things in sport is to come back to where you were before the game. You can get a bit soft so we have to make sure we’re ready for an incredible game against Scotland.”

Southgate defended Kane, who looked off the pace at times. “I think he led the line really well,” the manager said. “It was a game where he had to take a lot of physical buffeting. A lot of the game for him today was to link and create spaces, which he did for the goal, to let others play. There are days when chances will fall to him but today he was really tightly marked. But he brings so much more to our team than the goals.”

Zlatko Dalic, Croatia’s manager, admitted that his side had deserved nothing. “It was hard to face this pressure,” he said. “We managed to take control of the game but it was not sufficient, especially in attack. We conceded a goal after a mistake and that makes me angry. That is not how we should play in defence.” – Guardian

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