England manager Gareth Southgate on Friday hailed Raheem Sterling’s coming-of-age on the international stage after hitting his first hat-trick for the Three Lions in a 5-0 demolition of the Czech Republic.
Burgeoning talent was on show as 18-year-olds Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi also played their part in a perfect start to England’s Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.
Sterling, 24, was often criticized as he scored just two goals in his first 45 caps, but the Manchester City winger now has five in his past three England games after also scoring twice in a 3-2 Nations League win in Spain in November last year.
“I thought he was devastating tonight,” Southgate said. “I’m delighted for him to get the reaction that he did from the crowd here. We can’t hide from the fact that he’s had difficult moments with England and he’s turned that full circle.”
“I also think the goals in Spain were an important moment for him; you could see the release that had brought,” he added.
Harry Kane was also on target from the penalty spot and Tomas Kalas’ calamitous own-goal rounded off the scoring as England carried on their momentum from a run to the World Cup semi-finals and qualification for the last four of the Nations League.
The Euro 2020 final is to be played at Wembley and England have high hopes of being more than just hosts, especially with Sancho and Hudson-Odoi to add to an already talented front line boasting Sterling, Kane and Marcus Rashford.
Southgate believes that Sterling’s experience of the highs and lows of being an England protege makes him the perfect role model for Sancho, Hudson-Odoi and Declan Rice.
“I’ve put him into the leadership group that we have. I think he’s showing those signs, I think he’s a role model for the younger players coming in,” Southgate said.
FRANCE 4, MOLDOVA 1
Winger Antoine Griezmann scored one and set up another as World Cup winners France easily beat Moldova 4-1 in Chisinau in their opening Euro 2020 qualifier.
The Atletico Madrid attacker opened the scoring in the 24th minute of the Group H encounter before crossing for Raphael Varane to double the scores three minutes later.
Olivier Giroud equaled David Trezeguet as Les Bleus’ third-highest scorer of all time with his 34th international goal nine minutes before the break.
Kylian Mbappe completed the rout with three minutes left, before Vladimir Ambros claimed a late consolation for Moldova.
Leftback Layvin Kurzawa was the only member of the starting lineup without a World Cup medal as Bayern Munich winger Kingsley Coman pulled out during the warmup with a muscle issue and was replaced by Blaise Matuidi.
“We played a very consummate first half in terms of control and attacking organization. The second half was less fulfilling due to substitutions,” coach Didier Deschamps said.
Next up for France is Iceland, while Moldova, who are yet to qualify for an international tournament, head to Turkey.
Also on Friday, it was:
‧ Bulgaria 1, Montenegro 1
‧ Turkey 2, Albania 0
‧ Iceland 2, Andorra 0
‧ Portugal 0, Ukraine 0
‧ Luxembourg 2, Lithuania 1
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