Sterling puts things in perspective after flat stalemate with Scotland

‘It’s still early days and we’ve got a lot to build on, and I truly do believe we can do that’

England forward Raheem Sterling  during the Euro 2020 Group D match between England and Scotland at Wembley Stadium on Friday. Photograph: Carl Recine/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

England forward Raheem Sterling during the Euro 2020 Group D match between England and Scotland at Wembley Stadium on Friday. Photograph: Carl Recine/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

 

Amid the doom-mongering, a note of perspective. Actually, a few of them, mainly from Raheem Sterling, the England squad’s most experienced player with 63 caps, but one via him from Gareth Southgate, too.

Sterling does not run from the disappointment of last Friday’s 0-0 draw with Scotland in the second set of Euro 2020 group phase ties. He knows that the team’s use of the ball was poor, they did not embrace the occasion correctly. But the Manchester City winger also knows that, when last Sunday’s 1-0 win over Croatia is factored in, England remain well set to advance, and they are even in a better position at this stage of the competition than previous winners.

It was a point, according to Sterling, that Southgate made to his squad in the wake of the stalest of stalemates against the Scots.

“Gareth showed us some stats on teams that have gone on to do well in the tournament and where they were after the first two games,” Sterling said. “It just shows that it’s still early days and we’ve got a lot to build on, and I truly do believe we can do that.”

Portugal drew all three of their group games in 2016 before hitting their stride and beating France in the final while in 1992, Denmark drew their opener and lost their second match. That was the year when they had qualified only after Yugoslavia were expelled as a result of the break-up of their country; the Danes would go on to topple Germany. At Euro 88, the Netherlands, who beat the Soviet Union in the final, lost their opening fixture.

“The manager always shows us best possible scenarios, worst possible scenarios... when we were going into the World Cup, coming into the Euros,” Sterling continued. “This was another scenario where we’ve got four points, it’s not the end of the world. He tried to make us look at all the positives.

“He’s just showing us in previous tournaments that it’s not every team that wins their first few games that goes on to win. Sometimes, teams that have drawn their first two games have gone on to win, so we’ve just got to stay motivated, be happy and enjoy our football.”

Wild extremes

Sterling has been touched by the wild extremes of life as an England player over the past week or so. First, he was the goalscoring hero against Croatia, and how everybody loved the backstory to it all. Sterling grew up 500 yards from Wembley, he watched the stadium being rebuilt and he dreamed of one day scoring there for England at a major tournament. Then, he was among the flops against Scotland, vilified for a four-out-of-10 performance.

Sterling is the ultimate competitor on the field but, away from it, he comes across as mindful and laidback, helped in part by the meditation that he practices. In his position, it is vital not to get too high or too low; balance is everything. “I do feel there’s a bit of an over-reaction [after Scotland]... there’s more of a panic on the outside than inside the building,” Sterling said. “I don’t see anyone in the camp that feels any pressure or feels hard done by.

“The best thing we can do is focus on the training field. The more you listen to outside noise, the more it can affect you. The positive is that we can go out on Tuesday [in the final group tie against the Czech Republic], get a good win and that second game [against Scotland] is all forgotten about.”

‘More personality’

Right now, though, it lingers, framing the Czech game. So what went wrong? “Scotland was a different type of test and I felt we got drawn into their style of play,” Sterling said. “They threw things that we didn’t deal with well enough and I think with the ball, we could have shown more personality, dominated more with the ball.

“It was a weird one to be involved in. There was no real structure to the game in terms of this team has possession for this amount of time and the next team has a bit. It was back to front, back to front, and it is not very often you will get that at international level. As a team we need to know where to identify that and take control. We can’t get caught into playing a certain way when we want to use the ball a lot better.”

Scotland was no fun but Sterling is, more broadly, enjoying his football with England. He said in an interview on May 25th that he was “nowhere near” his best level. “It is just happiness, enjoying my football and that is what I am doing being here with the national team,” he said.

Sterling had lost his place as a regular at City from March 10th, missing some big games, although he did start in the biggest: the Champions League final defeat against Chelsea. “If you’re not playing, you’re not happy,” Sterling said. “That’s been me since a kid.”

Now for the Czechs, and Sterling has no time for the notion that it might be better to draw and advance as the group runners-up, thereby avoiding France, Germany or Portugal in the last 16. And it is not because England could get Spain if they come in second. “We haven’t spoken about the permutations,” Sterling said. “The objective is to try and win the group and that’s it.”

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