Belfast Telegraph

Hat-trick hero has matured both on and off pitch, says Southgate

 

Winning start: Ben Chilwell embraces Declan Rice
Winning start: Ben Chilwell embraces Declan Rice

By Carl Markham

England manager Gareth Southgate led the chorus of praise for Raheem Sterling after the Manchester City ace stole the show in their opening Euro 2020 qualifier.

Sterling scored his first England hat-trick as their campaign started in hugely impressive fashion against the Czech Republic at Wembley.

Manager Gareth Southgate gave Jadon Sancho his first international start and Borussia Dortmund's 18-year-old repaid his faith with a fine display.

But it was Sterling who grabbed the headlines as England built on the development that saw them reach the World Cup semi-finals in Russia and the finals of the inaugural Nations League.

Striker Harry Kane was also on target from the penalty spot and a Tomas Kalas own goal rounded off the scoring.

England's victory sees them top Group A after Montenegro drew 1-1 against Bulgaria.

On Sterling, Southgate said: "I thought he was electric all night. He's looked that way all week in training, involved in four of the goals. I'm really pleased for him, it's a special night for him.

"I just think he's really matured as a person and a footballer. He's hungry for those goals now.

"He's determined to get in the right areas of the pitch and the quality of his finishing, he's just hitting things instinctively."

A change of system to 4-3-3 seems to have reaped rewards for Southgate, who added: "I think we've got exciting wide players, you saw the two young boys as well, Marcus Rashford can play there and we've got others.

"It gets us good offensive players on the field and higher up the pitch. I thought there was some really good football at times."

Speaking beside the Wembley pitch, Sterling said: "It was a great feeling, the most important was the first (goal) to carry on from the game I had against Spain. That was the best moment for me.

"I'm excited. I'm in my home town, this is what dreams are made of, so I'm really happy to see it come true. We carry on, we've got a game on Monday (against Montenegro) and we need to follow up."

Sancho excelled, as did Declan Rice on his debut, while Callum Hudson-Odoi had a late cameo, with all three earning praise from Sterling.

He added: "They're playing for their clubs and they're special talents, every one of them. Jadon, I've seen numerous times and every time I've seen him I get excited. Callum has probably had a limited amount of games at Chelsea but he's the same again, every time I've seen him I've been really excited.

"And also Declan as well, he's really mature and for a holding midfielder, he's using the ball well. I'm just happy that they're English to be honest with you."

Meanwhile, Lionel Messi's return to the Argentina side for the first time since the World Cup ended in a 3-1 defeat by Venezuela.

Newcastle striker Salomon Rondon scored on six minutes before Jhon Murillo doubled the lead just before half-time.

Lautaro Martinez pulled a goal back, but Josef Martinez added Venezuela's third with a penalty.

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