Paris (AFP) – Raheem Sterling showed that he is coming of age on the international stage as his hat-trick saw England start their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by hammering the Czech Republic 5-0, while Antoine Griezmann inspired France to a battering of Moldova.
Manchester City attacker Sterling had scored just two goals in his first 45 caps, but he now has five in his last three international appearances following Friday’s treble, which helped England storm to the top of Group A ahead of Monday’s trip to Montenegro, who drew 1-1 at Bulgaria.
Sterling opened the scoring in the 24th minute when he tapped home Jadon Sancho’s cross, and struck twice more in the second half to put the result beyond doubt after Harry Kane fired home his 21st England goal from the penalty spot.
“It was a beautiful team performance and I was happy to help the team get the win,” Sterling said.
Sterling has 24 goals for club and country this term and his impressive form is a fry cry from the dark days when he was vilified as England crashed out of Euro 2016.
“I’m just being confident in myself, I’m trying to get in areas and take shots, not to worry about anything,” he added.
England carried the momentum from a run to the World Cup semi-finals and qualification for the last four of the Nations League into the Euro qualifiers and blooded young hopeful Sancho, who impressed on his full England debut.
The 18-year-old who has shone in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund, gave England fans further cause for excitement, with his potential adding to that of Sterling and Kane coming into their prime.
“I thought Raheem was electric. He has looked like that all week in training. I’m pleased for him, it is a special night for him,” coach Gareth Southgate said.
“I think he’s really matured as a person and a footballer. He’s hungry for goals and hitting things instinctively without thinking too much.”
– Griezmann shines for France –
France also got off to a perfect start after an older head in Antoine Griezmann spurred the world champions on to a comfortable 4-1 victory at Moldova.
Griezmann opened the scoring with his 27th France goal in the 24th minute of their Group H encounter before crossing for Raphael Varane to double the scores three minutes later.
Olivier Giroud equalled David Trezeguet as Les Bleus’ third highest scorer of all time with his 34th international goal nine minutes before the break and Kylian Mbappe completed the rout with three minutes left, before Vladimir Ambros claimed a late consolation for Moldova.