A STERLING START? CZECH.
England made a stunning start to Euro 2020 qualifying as Raheem Sterling’s hat-trick helped them on their way to a 5-0 thrashing of the Czech Republic.
For their first match en route to the finals, Gareth Southgate persisted to set England up under the 4-3-3 system. Faith was kept with Jordan Pickford, Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire – all World Cup heroes enduring tough seasons for their clubs. Meanwhile, Jadon Sancho earned his first competitive England start. The Czech Republic’s starting eleven included one English-based player – defeder Tomáš Kalas of Bristol City. Under the arch at a sold-out Wembley, England’s 2019 began.
The Three Lions made a steady start to the game and an injured Eric Dier was replaced early on by Ross Barkley. Their opponents had the opening chance from a swift counter, but Vladimír Darida fired high and wide. Just a minute later, England had their lead. Harry Kane picked up the ball in the middle of the park and played a delightfully weighted pass in behind a static Czech defence to Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho. The teenager marked his first competitive start with his second England assist – squaring for Raheem Sterling to squeeze home into a vacant net. Sterling doesn’t struggle in front of goal for his country anymore.
Gareth Southgate’s side went close to doubling their lead from a succession of corners, eventually doing so with the very last kick of the half. A signature foray into the box by goalscorer Sterling was blatantly obstructed by two wary Czech defenders. One of them, Pavel Kaderábek, was shown a card for his involvement. Captain Harry Kane blasted the penalty to the goalkeeper’s right and in. The half-time whistle blew and England had a commanding lead.
The Czech Republic improved after the introduction of Burnley’s Matej Vydra. Their pressure nearly told as Tomáš Souček’s drifting header bounced inches wide, following a free-kick. Czech midfielder David Pavelka then twice tested Pickford from corners, before England nearly grabbed a third. Harry Kane pulled the ball back for Sancho, but the teenager was denied a dream first England goal by a defender on the line. The ball was booted to safety, except it only went as far as Dele Alli’s shoulder. It somehow bounced over the goal rather than into it and so it remained, for the moment at least, 2-0.
England did gain their third just two minutes later. Kyle Walker bombed on and his ball forward was originally cut out but eventually ricocheted its way to Sterling. The Manchester City wide man shielded the ball from his marker, before swivelling and bending a brilliant strike beyond the reach of goalkeeper Jiří Pavlenka. At 3-0, it was game over for the visitors.
On came young Declan Rice, replacing Dele Alli. West Ham’s England debutant is the first and only player ever to represent England having played for a different country first. With the Czechs offering very little going forward, England and Raheem Sterling in particular went hunting for more goals. Ross Barkley drove forward purposefully on a one-man counter-attack, eventually playing in Sterling. The former Liverpool man cut inside and curled a long-range strike on goal. It deflected heavily off Ondřej Čelůstka and found its way into the net. Sterling wheeled away in a merry celebration – he had scored his first England hat-trick.
Callum Hudson-Odoi came on as a capable replacement to match-winner Sterling as Southgate looked to blood his young talent at this stage in an already won match. The Chelsea teenager became England’s youngest ever competitive debutant and made the most of it with an assist for the final goal of the game. Fellow eighteen-year-old Jadon Sancho drove towards Hudson-Odoi and then played him in. He cut inside and produced a shot that forced Pavlenka into a diving save. The ball came back out and rebounded cruelly off Chelsea loanee Kalas. It trickled into the net to condemn the Czech Republic to their biggest ever defeat.
The final whistle blew, and England’s players celebrated an energetic and exhilarating opener to Euro 2020 qualifying. Raheem Sterling rightly earned the man of the match award for his hat-trick, but all fourteen men involved played their part in a truly ruthless victory. England travel to Montenegro now for their second qualifier on Monday, a place in which they are yet to win. But they do so having already claimed their first three points of the campaign – beating the group’s second seeds the Czech Republic 5-0 at Wembley.