Sterling saviour again: England beats Czechs at Euro 2020

Sterling scores his second goal of tournament for 1-0 win over Czech Republic

England's forward Raheem Sterling (R) scores the opening goal during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group D football match between Czech Republic and England at Wembley Stadium in London on June 22, 2021. / AFP / POOL / NEIL HALL

At least England now knows it can rely on Raheem Sterling for goals.

The scoring touch missing at his last three tournaments has been rediscovered on home territory, and it gave his team first place in its group.

Sterling scored his second goal at Euro 2020 on Tuesday to secure a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic at Wembley Stadium. Both teams had already qualified for the round of 16.

The header at the far-post from Jack Grealish’s cross in the 12th minute moved England on to a path where its only game away from Wembley could be a quarter-final match in Rome.

Home comforts should certainly help Sterling, who grew up in the shadow of the Wembley arch and is proving to be England’s game-changer.

How unlike the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, and Euro 2016, when Sterling was unable to find the net.

This time, it was his goal that also clinched the opening win over Croatia.

The Manchester City player is stepping up as 2018 World Cup Golden Boot winner Harry Kane endures a barren run in front of goal.

Kane at least managed his first shot on target of Euro 2020 against the Czechs after failing to do so against Croatia and in the 0-0 draw with Scotland.

“We kept the ball better today and there were more attacking options,” said Sterling, who chipped past goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik but hit the post in the opening minutes.

Beyond his goal, there wasn’t much for the pandemic-restricted crowd of about 20,000 to celebrate.

What did get them cheering were goal updates being flashed on the big screens as Scotland lost to Croatia 3-1 and was eliminated as the last-place team.

The goals in Glasgow had big implications for the Czechs, who dropped from first place to third and are uncertain about where their last-16 game will be.

England now has a week off playing before hosting the runner-up from Group F on Tuesday.

That opponent could be World Cup champion France, defending champion Portugal, Germany or Hungary, and the number of spectators allowed will rise to 45,000.

“At some point you are going to have to face the best teams,” Sterling said. “That’s the whole point of being in the tournament, which is to challenge yourself.”

Finishing at the top also allows time for back-up left back Ben Chilwell and midfielder Mason Mount to complete their self-isolation on Monday.

They were considered to be close contacts at last week’s game with Scotland midfielder Billy Gilmour, who tested positive for the coronavirus.

The absence of Mount opened new opportunities in the line-up, with Grealish handed his first start of the tournament.

Bukayo Saka made his first appearance and helped to inject some of the attacking impetus missing against Scotland.

“Saka and Grealish got in the pockets really well, turned and got on the ball, and it’s brilliant to have players around you who can create goals,” Sterling said.

Saka, 19, an Arsenal winger, was named Uefa’s player of the match.

“Of course, with us qualifying before the game we had a lot more freedom,” he said.

There was also the return from injury for Harry Maguire after six weeks.

And it was the central defender’s long through ball that created the openings so badly needed for Kane. But the captain’s shot went straight to Vaclík.

Despite the lack of goals from the English, the three clean sheets are encouraging.

The latest was protected by the only real moment of danger goalkeeper Jordan Pickford faced when he stretched to block a rising shot from Tomas Holes in the 28th minute.

“The finishing wasn’t really great,” Czech Republic coach Jaroslav Silhavy said. “England was stronger in that aspect.”

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