06/13 10:49 CDT Sterling's dream now a reality as England beats Croatia 1-0
Sterling's dream now a reality as England beats Croatia 1-0
By ROB HARRIS
AP Global Soccer Writer
LONDON (AP) --- Raheem Sterling grew up in the shadow of Wembley Stadium as it
was being rebuilt, even getting a tattoo of its famous arch on his left forearm.
Now playing for his country at the iconic venue, he used his right foot to give
England the start it had been longing for at the European Championship.
The winger's goal --- his first in a tournament in his 13th match through four
competitions --- gave England a 1-0 win over Croatia on Sunday in its opening
Euro 2020 game.
"I always said to myself if I come here, growing up two minutes down the road,
I've got to score," Sterling said. "It's a great feeling doing it."
It ensured England overcome its opening-game stumbling block, finally making a
winning start to the continental tournament in its 10th appearance.
Far more comfortable than in the loss to Croatia in the 2018 World Cup
semifinals, this was an England side packed with youthful debutants.
Seventeen-year-old midfielder Jude Bellingham, who plays in Germany with
Borussia Dortmund, became the youngest-ever player to appear at a European
Championship when he came on in the 82nd minute to replace captain Harry Kane.
The previous record had been held by Jetro Willems, who was 18 when he played
for the Netherlands at Euro 2012.
Sterling, still only 26, is now England's most experienced tournament player
and entrusted by coach Gareth Southgate despite struggling for game time at
Manchester City in recent months.
After only scoring once in his previous 13 appearances for City and England, he
found the breakthrough against Croatia in the 57th minute. It was the vision of
Kalvin Phillips, one of five England starters making their tournament debut,
that created the opening.
"He brings a lot of energy to the team," Sterling said. "He's always in the
faces of the opposition and uses the ball well."
The Leeds midfielder shook of challenges before releasing Sterling, who slipped
a shot into the net via a touch off Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
The sparkling moment for Sterling came two days after he was named in the
queen's birthday honors list for his campaigning against racial injustice.
But at the first England game at Wembley with fans since 2019, there was a sour
start when players taking a knee were jeered by their own fans. That was
despite pleas from the England team to respect the anti-racism gesture.
There was a more unified atmosphere among the pandemic-restricted crowd of
about 20,000 at the end when "Football's coming home" was sung from the team's
"Three Lions" anthem while being applauded by the players.
The England players, who next face Scotland on Friday in Group D at Wembley,
couldn't wait to shield from the heat of around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees
Fahrenheit) on a rare sweltering day in England.
"It's not conditions we're used to and we dug in as a team," Sterling said.
"It's been a long season for me. I couldn't wait to get started with England
and I knew it would be a positive one."
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