England’s Euro 2020 campaign got off to a satisfactory start as Raheem Sterling‘s goal secured victory over Croatia at Wembley.
Sterling repaid England manager Gareth Southgate’s faith in him, sliding in the winner after 57 minutes following a perfect pass from man-of-the-match Kalvin Phillips.
Southgate resisted the temptation to play Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish and was rewarded with a lively performance from Sterling as England secured the win their superiority deserved.
The Three Lions almost took an early lead when Phil Foden struck a post but there were the first signs of frustration from fans and players just as Sterling made the decisive contribution with his first goal in a major tournament.
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was barely tested by a disappointing Croatia side, who never looked like repeating their victory over England in the 2018 World Cup semi-final in Moscow – leaving England with three points to take into Friday’s second Group D game against Scotland at Wembley.
Leeds United’s Phillips has been branded ‘The Yorkshire Pirlo’ by his adoring fans at Elland Road. This was a performance all his own and one of the highest class.
From the first whistle, the 25-year-old was calm, creative and England’s most assured player both in the periods when they dominated and also when they lost impetus and suffered spells of frustration.
He tested Croatia keeper Dominik Livakovic early on but his most important contribution came with a run and pass that provided Sterling with the perfect opportunity to break Croatia’s resistance.
This was Phillips’ first game in a major tournament, one in which he was central to Southgate’s system alongside Declan Rice, but also with a heavy weight of responsibility as experienced Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is still not considered fully match fit.
Phillips was often simply regarded as a holding midfield player in his early days but under the tutelage of manager Marco Bielsa at Leeds, and thanks to his own endeavours, he is now so much more.
It was a statement performance from Phillip and one that surely guarantees his place against Scotland next Friday.
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