Fri | Jul 23, 2021

Sterling realises Wembley dream

Published:Monday | June 14, 2021 | 12:07 AM
England’s Raheem Sterling celebrates after scoring the only goal during the Euro 2020 group D match against Croatia at Wembley Stadium in London, England, yesterday.
England’s Raheem Sterling celebrates after scoring the only goal during the Euro 2020 group D match against Croatia at Wembley Stadium in London, England, yesterday.

LONDON, England (AP):

Raheem Sterling grew up in the shadow of Wembley Stadium as it was being rebuilt, even getting a tattoo of its famous arch on his left forearm.

Now playing for his country at the iconic venue, he used his right foot to give England the start they had been longing for at the European Championship.

The winger’s goal — his first in a tournament in his 13th match through four competitions — gave England a 1-0 win over Croatia yesterday in their opening UEFA Euro 2020 game.

“I always said to myself, if I come here, growing up two minutes down the road, I’ve got to score,” Sterling said. “It’s a great feeling doing it.”

It ensured England overcome their opening-game stumbling block, finally making a winning start to the continental tournament in their 10th appearance.

Far more comfortable than in the loss to Croatia in the 2018 FIFA World Cup semi-finals, this was an England side packed with youthful debutants.

Seventeen-year-old midfielder Jude Bellingham, who plays in Germany with Borussia Dortmund, became the youngest-ever player to appear at a European Championship when he came on in the 82nd minute to replace captain Harry Kane. The previous record had been held by Jetro Willems, who was 18 when he played for the Netherlands at Euro 2012.

Sterling, still only 26, is now England’s most experienced tournament player and entrusted by coach Gareth Southgate, despite struggling for game time at Manchester City in recent months.

“He’s been a reliable performer for us,” Southgate said. “I know people are saying he hasn’t hit the heights, but we can’t have all the burden of scoring on Harry’s shoulder. We need the players in the wide areas. He looked a threat the whole day.”

After only scoring once in his previous 13 appearances for City and England, he found the breakthrough against Croatia in the 57th minute. It was the vision of Kalvin Phillips, one of five England starters making their tournament debut, that created the opening.

“He brings a lot of energy to the team,” Sterling said. “He’s always in the faces of the opposition and uses the ball well.”

The Leeds midfielder shook off challenges before releasing Sterling, who slipped a shot into the net via a touch off Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livaković.

The sparkling moment for Sterling came two days after he was named in the queen’s birthday honours list for his campaigning against racial injustice.

But at the first England game at Wembley with fans since 2019, there was a sour start when players taking a knee were jeered by their own fans. That was despite pleas from the England team to respect the anti-racism gesture.

There was a more unified atmosphere among the pandemic-restricted crowd of about 20,000 at the end when ‘Football’s coming home’ was sung from the team’s ‘Three Lions’ anthem while being applauded by the players.

Yesterday’s results:

Group C

Austria 3-1 North Macedonia

Netherlands 3-2 Ukraine

Group D

England 1-0 Croatia