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Sterling breaks major tournament hex in Wembley ‘back garden’

London (AFP) – Raheem Sterling said he knew he would break his duck for England in major tournaments when given the chance at Wembley after netting the winner in a 1-0 victory over Croatia on Sunday.

Sterling grew up in the shadow of Wembley and justified Gareth Southgate’s decision to keep faith with him by scoring the only goal just before the hour.

“I always said if I played at Wembley in a major tournament, I’m scoring. I had to score in my back garden and delighted to do that,” he told the BBC.

Sterling’s strike ensured England won their opening game at a European Championship for the first time in 10 attempts and ended his run of not scoring in 12 appearances across three previous tournaments.

The 26-year-old’s place had been under threat from Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford after a disappointing end of the season with Manchester City, but he has now scored 11 times in his last 15 international appearances.

“I’m so pleased for Raheem, he’s had this hex in the tournaments. I felt he was dangerous all day. Right from the start he looked a threat,” said England manager Southgate.

“His goalscoring record suggests we should have faith with him. He was motivated for it but we are going to need everybody, we are going to need that depth, those attacking players, we’ll need those guys through the tournament.”

Sterling was sidelined for the majority of Manchester City’s run to their first Champions League final by the emergence of his club and international teammate Phil Foden.

The pair started together as England gained revenge for their 2018 World Cup semi-final defeat to Croatia, and both did enough to suggest they should retain their place against Scotland on Friday.

“There are a lot of different reasons why I haven’t scored with my club, but that’s irrelevant now, I’m here with my country now,” added Sterling.

“It’s been a long season for me, but I couldn’t wait to get here.”

After finally ending the wait to win an opening game at the Euro, Southgate is keen to keep the momentum going.

“This is a tough group with different sorts of challenges,” he added. “We’re pleased about today, you want a good start because it takes some of the tension out of the preparation of the next game, but we still need some points to qualify.”

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