London – Raheem Sterling finally found his tournament touch when his goal gave England a deserved 1-0 win over Croatia at Wembley today as they began a European Championship with a victory for the first time in nine attempts.
Sterling, something of a surprise starter after a flat end to the domestic season but a favourite of manager Gareth Southgate, slid home in the 61st minute to end an individual drought that had run through England’s three previous major tournaments.
On a boiling hot day England started strongly, lost their way for a while but regained control as Croatia barely managed a shot, giving the home side the early advantage in Group D that also includes Scotland and the Czech Republic.
Roared on by a noisy 22,500 crowd – a quarter of Wembley’s capacity – England started full of bright intentions and put huge pressure on the visitors, pinning them deep in their own half.
Phil Foden, his bleached hair channelling Paul Gascoigne from Euro 96, almost gave them a dream start when he cut in from the right and curled a low shot beyond Dominik Livakovic but agonisingly saw it come back off the post after the slightest of deflections from the toe of Josko Gvardiol.
Sterling had looked lively all day and celebrated his first major tournament goal with gusto, though he should have added a second 13 minutes later but blazed wildly over the bar.
Croatia were then forced to show a bit more ambition and threw on their attacking subs but though England’s defence looked a little shaky at times there were few chances for an equaliser.
Scotland and the Czech Republic get their Group D campaign underway tomorrow before England welcome the Scots to Wembley on Friday, with Croatia playing the Czechs in Glasgow the same day. — Reuters