Gareth Southgate praised Raheem Sterling’s “devastating” performance and the manner in which he has turned around his international career as England started their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a 5-0 victory over Czech Republic.
Sterling contributed a first hat-trick and won a penalty converted by Harry Kane before retiring to a standing ovation having scored five goals in his last three England appearances. Southgate said the Manchester City forward, as one of the more experienced and influential members of the squad, has graduated to become a member of the national team’s in-house leadership group.
“Raheem was brilliant, electric all night,” the England manager said. “He’s in a really confident moment, not only on the field but off the field he’s so mature and comfortable in himself. So I’m delighted for him to get the reaction that he did from the crowd. We can’t hide from the fact he’s had difficult moments with England and he’s turned that full circle.
“The goals in Spain [his first in 28 caps] were an important moment for him; you could see the release that had brought. His finishes there and tonight were finishes that he was just taking on without thinking too much. At times you could almost see the thought process in the past but he’s hungry for those goals.
“I know he’s spoken about that before, of how he’s added that incentive to his game, and I thought he was devastating tonight. He’s a role model for the younger players coming in and he’s enjoyed that extra responsibility as well.”
Sterling lifted his shirt after scoring his second goal to display a tribute to Damary Dawkins, a 13-year-old member of Crystal Palace’s elite player development centre who died last week after four years with a acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, who died last weekend of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. “Damary was a kid I was trying to help and we thought we’d found a donor,” he said. “Sadly it didn’t match and he passed away, so I wanted to give his family something to smile about.”
England capped Declan Rice off the bench and ended the game with two 18-year-olds on the pitch for the first time in 138 years. Jadon Sancho set up the opening goal and Callum Hudson-Odoi – England’s youngest competitive debutant, beating Duncan Edwards in 1955 – playing a part in the team’s fifth.
“To finish with two young wingers was really exciting and, again, was only what we’d seen during training this week,” said Southgate, who has released Eric Dier back to Tottenham with a hip injury. “They don’t feel inhibited around the camp, so they don’t feel inhibited on the pitch and you could see that by the way they played on the pitch.
“I thought Jadon made a really good contribution for the first goal. It was a bit of a mixture outside of that, but that’s wing players; we’re asking them to try things, we’re asking our attacking players to take players on and as the coach you have to accept they’ll fail a number of times and the times they succeed we’ll create chances and we’ll create goals.
“Callum had an opportunity to play with the freedom he’s shown all week, and I thought he displayed that. He’ll be another player that maybe people at home watching won’t have seen so much of and I’m sure they’ll have seen a lot of things that excited them.”