England vs Czech Republic result: Raheem Sterling hat-trick lights up Euro 2020 qualifier victory

England 5-0 Czech Republic: This was Sterling's first hat-trick for the Three Lions and yet another reminder of his inherent worth to a side which now surely stands as second best on the continent behind France

Miguel Delaney
Wembley
Saturday 23 March 2019 09:59 GMT
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

A hat-trick, some hat-tips, and one big flag laid down for the rest of Europe. On a night of so many impressive firsts for Gareth Southgate’s surging side, it was the effervescent Raheem Sterling that stood apart. He hit his first ever hat-trick for England, to set the team on the way to a 5-0 win over the Czech Republic, and well on the way in this opening Euro 2020 qualifier. Whatever about firsts, there can be less and less argument that Southgate’s team are the second best on the continent right now behind world champions France, as they looked like they are only set to keep improving.

This was the extra point of note to go with the three points from this opening game, as well as Sterling’s performance. All of Declan Rice, Callum Hudson-Odoi and – particularly – Jadon Sancho made international debuts, and if this is to be the new generation that finally ends that painful old wait for England, it was all the more fitting that it was the first of them that set the tone and the pace. That is just what Sterling does, and why he is so so valuable even beyond the goals. A forward still just 24 is now one of the stand-out leaders of a team that is at once so excitingly young but already quite exactingly mature. You only have to look at captain Harry Kane, too, who got one of the other goals of the game to go with Tomas Kalas’ late own goal.

The only blemish on an otherwise perfect start was Eric Dier’s injury, but the reality is he is likely to be eventually taken over by Rice in the team. The recent international convert had a quieter night than his fellow debutants after the week’s controversy, but still made his impact. Just not anywhere near as much as Sancho.

There had been some surprise Dier started over Rice in the first place, particularly since he’s only started once for Tottenham in 2019, but the midfielder came nowhere close to finishing the game. He went off injured after a mere 17 minutes, to be replaced by Ross Barkley. That was perhaps less of a surprise, because by this point there was not much for England to cover.

Czech Republic were barely willing to come out of their half, and it made sense for England to push more forward, while having a less defensive player in Jordan Henderson at the base of midfield. It also made for an occasionally tedious game, as Southgate’s side had to look to move the ball around and thereby drag the block of Czech defenders out of position.

The only two players that were offering anything a bit more electric were Sancho and Sterling, although there wasn’t exactly much space to do anything special in. They eventually found enough for the goal to put England ahead, although that in itself came from the patient approach Southgate has been preaching and trying to inculcate into this team. This was the point of it all, and this was also the eventual beauty of it. After a few short passes, Henderson pushed the play onto Kane, who then played the sweetest of through balls for Sancho to run onto.

The Czech defence had been taken out and, without taking another extra touch, Sancho threaded the ball across goal for Sterling to slide in.

That forced the Czechs to come out, and look to attack a bit more, but not by much because of what it immediately meant for their defence. There were suddenly so many more situations where Sterling and Sancho were bearing down on them, and with a lot of space to run into.

Raheem Sterling put the hosts ahead after 24 minutes
Raheem Sterling put the hosts ahead after 24 minutes (REUTERS)

Pavel Kaderabek and Tomas Kalas looked to shore it up in the most rudimentary manner just before half-time, but merely gave away a penalty as Sterling was brought down sandwiched between the two.

Kane took it, and of course scored.

The England captain had actually been at his most dangerous in open play, again so often dropping back to play some delightful passes. It has become such a notable feature of his game, especially with England, and lends credence to his own belief that he is more a number 10 than a striker. That is itself remarkable given that fine goal record already, and he almost helped start Sancho’s own goal record. The winger’s effort saw his close-range effort blocked by Filip Novak after Kane – and Sterling – had done superbly to set him up.

Harry Kane converts from the spot to double England’s lead
Harry Kane converts from the spot to double England’s lead (Getty)

The Czechs meanwhile offered their own main threat from set-pieces, and one early in the second half almost saw them pull one back as Vladimir Darida sent a fine low cross for Tomas Soucek, whose diving header went narrowly wide. David Pavelka almost forced a corner past Jordan Pickford moments later.

Such attacks of course only meant more space for England, and Kane was there at the centre of another surge, that ended with Sterling claiming his second of the game.

His third wasn’t long coming, if it – and thereby that first England hat-trick – is eventually credited to him. His long-range shot did seem destined for goal anyway, only to take a wicked deflection off Ondrej Celustka and in.

This was Jadon Sancho’s first competitive start for England
This was Jadon Sancho’s first competitive start for England (AFP/Getty Images)

If there will be debate about who gets the goal, there can now be no debate over Sterling’s influence and seniority in this team. He has developed into a genuine leader. The winger and Kane have become the pillars of the team, as well as those who best make it move.

Hudson-Odoi forced the fifth, his stinging shot parried by Jiri Pavlenka, only to rebound off the unfortunate Kalas and in.

There was nothing fortunate about England’s win. It was a formidable show of force, so many fine firsts.

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