At least now England know they can count on Raheem Sterling to score. The missing touch in his last three tournaments has been rediscovered in his homeland and gives his team first place in its group.
It was Sterling’s second goal at Euro 2020 and he secured a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic on Tuesday in a match at Wembley Stadium between two teams that were already secure for their places in the round of 16.
“We’ve always felt we can’t carry all the scoring weight with Harry (Kane),” said England coach Gareth Southgate.
A header in the far cross from Jack Grillish’s cross in the 12th minute moved England to a path where the only game away from Wembley would be a potential quarter-final in Rome. Home comfort should certainly help Stirling, who grew up in the shadow of Wembley’s arch and turned out to be changing England’s game.
How much unlike the World Cups 2014 and 2018 and Euro 2016, when Sterling failed to find the net. This time it was his goal, which also brought the initial victory over Croatia. The Manchester City player is getting stronger as Kane, winner of the Golden Shoe for the 2018 World Cup, endures a fruitless run at the door.
Kane at least managed to make his first shot at the Euro 2020 goal against the Czechs, after failing to do so against Croatia and in the 0-0 draw with Scotland.
“Today we kept the ball better and there were more opportunities to attack,” said Stirling, who raised goalkeeper Tomas Vaklik but hit the crossbar in the first minutes.
Beyond Sterling’s goal, there wasn’t much to celebrate with the crowd of about 20,000, limited by a pandemic. What made them happy was that goal updates flashed on the big screens as Scotland lost to Croatia 3-1 and were eliminated as the team in last place.
The goals in Glasgow were of great importance for the Czechs, who fell from first place to third and are not sure where their last match of the 16 will be. England already have a week off before taking second place in Group F on Tuesday. This opponent can be the champion of the World Cup France, defending the champion Portugal, Germany or Hungary, and the allowed crowd will increase to 45,000.
“At some point you will have to face the best teams,” Sterling said. “That’s the whole point of participating in a tournament, which is to challenge yourself.” Completing the top also gives time for left-back Ben Chillwell and midfielder Mason Mount to complete their self-isolation on Monday, after being seen as close contacts in last week’s match with Scottish midfielder Billy Gilmore, who was positive for the coronavirus.
The lack of Mount opened new opportunities in the team with Grealish gave his first start to the tournament. Bukayo Saka made his first appearance and helped inject part of the offensive push missing against Scotland.
“Saka and Realish fit very well in their pockets, turned around and got into the ball,” Sterling said, “and it’s brilliant to have players around who can score goals.”
Saka, Arsenal’s 19-year-old winger, has been named a UEFA player. “Of course, when we qualified before the match, we had a lot more freedom,” Saka said.
There was also a return from injury for Harry Maguire after six weeks. And it was the central defender’s long game that created the holes Kane needed so badly. But the captain’s shot went directly to Vaklik. Despite the lack of goals from the British, the three clean sheets are encouraging. The latter was protected from the only real moment of danger that goalkeeper Jordan Pickford faced when he reached out to block Tomas Holes’ growing shot in the 28th minute.
“The finish was not really great,” said Czech coach Jaroslav Shilhavi through an interpreter, “and England were stronger in that respect.”