London (AFP) – England thrashed the Czech Republic 5-0 in their opening Euro 2020 qualifier on Friday:
Here are three things we learned from the Wembley clash:
Sancho seizes his chance
Jadon Sancho gave a tantalising glimpse of his vast potential with an eye-catching display in his first competitive England start.
The 18-year-old had made three previous England appearances, including one friendly start against the United States.
Injuries to Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard gave the Under-17 World Cup winner a chance to accelerate his already rapid rise and he seized the opportunity in style.
Having quit Manchester City in 2017 search of regular first-team action, the 18-year-old has earned rave reviews for his performances with Borussia Dortmund this season.
Sancho became the first Englishman in any of Europe’s top five leagues to reach 10 assists this season.
And after 24 minutes, he could add an England assist to that tally in a glimpse of what could have been for City.
Racing onto Harry Kane’s superb pass, Sancho drove a low cross to Raheem Sterling and the City winger slid in to score at the far post to cap a fine 25-pass move.
Sancho’s last visit to Wembley with Dortmund ended in a disappointing 3-0 Champions League defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, but he was far more effective this time.
Another buccaneering run featured a nutmeg and a cheeky back-heel as he bewildered the Czech defence and left England fans eagerly awaiting the next stage of his development.
In the midst of arguably the best season of his career, Raheem Sterling’s hat-trick showed why he is now essential to the success of both England and Manchester City.
Played on the left wing instead of his preferred berth on the right flank to make room for Jadon Sancho, Sterling demonstrated the versatility he has learned at City, hammering home the point by putting England ahead midway through the first half.
Alertly anticipating Sancho’s imminent cross, Sterling easily glided away from his marker and stretched to poke home from close-range.
Sterling was only just getting started and he produced a superb piece of skill to win the penalty that Kane converted for England’s second goal.
Collecting Dele Alli’s pass on the edge of penalty area, Sterling was confronted by four Czech defenders.
But in the blink of an eye he had threaded his way through them with a drop of the shoulder and a deft flick before being cynically fouled.
Showing how far he has come since the dark days when he was vilified following England’s miserable Euro 2016 exit, Sterling was now the catalyst for all his team’s best moments.
He scored again in the 62nd minute, holding off his marker before unfurling a cool finish, and sealed his hat-trick six minutes later when his long-range effort deflected in off Ondrej Celustka.
It was the 24-year-old’s 24th goal of the season for club and country, emphasising his credentials as one of the main contenders for the Footballer of the Year award.
Rice avoids stormy debut
When Declan Rice trotted onto the pitch to make his England debut as a 63rd minute substitute, the West Ham midfielder could have been forgiven for taking extra notice of the crowd’s reaction to his introduction.
Just 24 hours earlier, England-born Rice was forced to apologise after the emergence of 2015 social media comments in which he appeared to support the IRA.
One Instagram post on his account said: ‘My brudda. UP THE RA. Wait till we draw England’, and another using the hashtag ‘UPTHERA’.
Given Rice had just pledged his footballing future to England after previously playing for the Republic of Ireland, it was feared the controversy would led to a hostile reception for the 20-year-old.
But Rice found England’s fans in forgiving mood as his arrival was greeted with applause and muted cheers from some sections.
Rice kept it simple in his first appearance, but the hardest part of his assimilation had already been accomplished.
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