Euro 2020

Sterling the goal hero for England against Croatia

Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling put all concerns over his club form and his England place aside to down Croatia.

0
Sterling blocks out the noise to let Three Lions roar

Raheem Sterling felt it was important to "block the outside world off" ahead of his match-winning turn in England's 1-0 Euro 2020 victory over Croatia.

Manchester City forward Sterling was played in for the only goal following some fabulous play by Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips after 57 minutes at Wembley.

The 26-year-old's club future has been the subject of mounting speculation after losing his place as an automatic starter for Pep Guardiola, while there has been little progress in talks over extending his contract at the Etihad Stadium that expires in 2023.

A solitary goal for City since the end of February, allayed with the enviable options Gareth Southgate has in attack for England, led to calls for Sterling to be ditched in favour of Jack Grealish ahead of the Group D opener.

Additionally, Sterling had failed to score in 12 previous outings at major tournaments for his country, but now has 13 in his past 17 appearances for the Three Lions.

"To be honest with you, I think playing football and being in major tournaments for a long time now, one of the things you learn is knowing when to block noise out," he told a post-match news conference after being named UEFA's Star of the Match.

"That's what I've done. I've blocked the outside world off and just tried to focus on coming into this tournament with a clear head, fully focused to help my team and that's the most important thing.

"I've haven't tried to listen to any noise outside – focus on myself, I know what I can bring to the team and it's as simple as that."

Southgate hails Sterling's performance

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Southgate hailed Sterling's all-round contribution on a sweltering London afternoon, with the winger's 12 duels contested more than any of his team-mates.

"He's been a reliable performer for us for a long period of time and his goals record in the last two-and-a-half years with us and with his club… even this year, I know people are saying he hasn't hit the heights but he's still one-in-three for his club," he said, seemingly joining Sterling in the block-noise-out club.

"We can't have all the scoring burden on Harry [Kane]. You've got to have players in those wide areas and in midfield who can chip in as well.

"I thought he looked a threat the whole day. I have to also say his work without the ball was phenomenal, positionally and the desire to track and stop them advancing."

Phillips was another player to catch the eye with and without the ball.

He was second to Sterling with 11 duels contested and recovered possession more often than any other England player (seven).

The 25-year-old completed 31 of 33 passes overall and 19 of 20 inside the opposition half, including his assist for Sterling at the end of a driving run and a wonderful piece of skill.

"To be able to work with the coach [Marcelo Bielsa] that he has and to have a season of playing in the Premier League will have given him tremendous confidence," Southgate said.

"All those attributes were there – the range of passing, the athleticism, the desire. He's just a very good footballer – high performance, low maintenance. We like that a lot."

Sterling was understandably very appreciative of Phillips' performance.

"He was good in there, he brings a lot of energy to the team. He's on the front foot, at opposition midfielders and always in their faces," he added.

"At the same time he's great with the ball, uses the ball well. For our goal you can see the clever play, the drive with the ball, the little skill at the end and a great weight of pass.

"He brings a lot to the team. It's a credit to him – first major tournament and he's done brilliantly today."