Raheem Sterling scores first England hat-trick
Raheem Sterling scored his first England hat-trick as their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign started in hugely impressive fashion as they outclassed the Czech Republic at Wembley.
Manager Gareth Southgate gave Jadon Sancho his first international start and Borussia Dortmund’s 18-year-old repaid his faith with a fine display.
But it was Sterling who stole the show as England built on the development that saw them reach the World Cup semi-finals in Russia and the finals of the inaugural Nations League.
Sancho showed his quality with a perfect cross for the stretching Sterling to open the scoring after 24 minutes and captain Harry Kane added the second in first-half stoppage time after the Manchester City forward was bundled over by two Czech Republic defenders.
England survived minor scares at the start of the second half but reasserted their vast superiority when Sterling scored on the turn just after the hour and completed his hat-trick six minutes later when his 20-yard shot deflected in off Ondrej Celustka.
Sterling was then given a standing ovation as he was replaced by debutant Callum Hudson-Odoi, with another of England’s young brigade Declan Rice having already been given his first Three Lions cap as replacement for Dele Alli.
And Hudson-Odoi, making his England debut before his first Premier League start for Chelsea, had a hand in the fifth when his shot was saved by keeper Jiri Pavlenka, only for Tomas Kalas to turn the rebound into his own net.
England’s victory sees them top Group A after Montenegro drew 1-1 against Bulgaria earlier on Friday.
When Sterling scored twice in England’s 3-2 win in Spain in October, their first win there for 31 years, the goals ended a three-year barren international sequence, stretching back 27 games.
No-one questioned Sterling’s ability or his attitude but this was clearly a flaw that needed addressing, although the feeling remained that he simply needed one goal to open the floodgates and replicate his club form at Manchester City.
And so it has proved.
The burden, such as it was, lifted off Sterling’s shoulders on that stellar night in Seville and Wembley witnessed a player in prime form and confidence.
Sterling, in tandem with Kane and Sancho, terrorised the Czech Republic defence, stealing in for a poacher’s first goal before a driving run into the area brought England a penalty.
He showed great awareness to score his second on the turn before getting a deserved slice of good fortune with a deflection for his hat-trick.
Wembley rose to Sterling as he went off – his status as a player crucial to England’s future underlined.
Southgate gives a glimpse into the future
England manager Gareth Southgate said he would have no hesitation in blooding the talented band of youngsters he has at his disposal and he was as good as his word in this thrilling glimpse into the future.
Sancho, on his first start, was brimming with confidence, running at the Czech defence as he set up the first goal and only being denied a goal himself by a desperate goalline clearance after the break.
Rice was given a run-out for a taste of the full England experience while Hudson-Odoi also showed the fearlessness of youth in his cameo appearance.
This young group, alongside the established figures such as Kane and Sterling, delighted England’s fans and added to the growing excitement and expectation surrounding Southgate’s side.
Yes, the Czech Republic were mediocre opponents but England put them away with so much to spare that one can only admire this performance as Southgate’s men now prepare to face Montenegro in Podgorica on Monday. – www.bbc.com