Raheem Sterling’s first major tournament goal got England’s Euro 2020 campaign off to a winning start as Gareth Southgate’s side overcame World Cup semi-final foes Croatia.
Three years on from their heartbreaking extra-time loss at the Luzhniki, the Three Lions exacted some sort of revenge by triumphing in the Group D opener at a pulsating, partially filled Wembley
Sterling could see the stadium from his house growing up and scored under the arch that is etched onto his arm, securing a 1-0 win against Croatia on a sweltering Sunday afternoon in the capital.
A smattering of jeers when players took the knee before kick-off made way for a start as lively as the socially distanced crowd at the first major men’s international tournament match on home soil since Euro 96.
Phil Foden’s new bleach-blond look has been likened to Paul Gascoigne’s back then and the 21-year-old came close to producing a moment of magic the England great would have been proud of when hitting a post.
England shone during that encouraging opening 20 minutes, only for Croatia to settle and take the sting out of a sharp attack that continued to underwhelm early in second half.
The Three Lions had never previously won their opening game at a European Championship and, just as fans began to worry that run might continue, a moment of incision cut the visitors’ backline open.
The impressive Kalvin Phillips cut inside and smartly put through Sterling to smash home his first tournament goal as fans celebrated a Three Lions strike at Wembley for the first time since November 2019.
It proved the winner at the end of a week to remember for the 26-year-old, who was made an MBE for his work for services to racial equality in sport in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Sterling continued that fight by taking the knee before kick-off alongside his team-mates, with some ignoring pleas to respect players by booing the gesture before applause and cheers drowned the minority out.