Gareth Southgate heaped praised on “devastating” Raheem Sterling after his hat-trick helped England kick off Euro 2020 qualification with a comprehensive win against the Czech Republic.
Last year’s World Cup semi-finalists have the inaugural Nations League Finals to look forward to this summer and 2019 started off on the right foot at a sold-out Wembley on Friday.
Sterling netted his first treble for England and earned the penalty that saw Harry Kane score the second goal, with a shot from 18-year-old debutant Callum Hudson-Odoi leading to Czech defender Tomas Kalas’ own goal as the match ended 5-0.
Jadon Sancho made his first competitive start and newly-eligible Declan Rice made his debut on a memorable night, but one man dominated the talk after Friday’s Group A opener.
“I saw what I’ve seen all week from him, so the level he hit didn’t surprise me,” manager Southgate said of Sterling.
“He’s in a really confident moment, not only on the field, but off the field he’s so mature and comfortable in himself.
“I think I talked about that earlier in the week, really, how I’ve seen that.
“So 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.
“And his finishes there and tonight were finishes that he was just taking on without thinking too much.
“At times, you could almost see the thought process in the past, but he’s hungry for those goals.
“I know he’s spoken about that before, of how he’s added that incentive to his game and I thought he was devastating tonight.”