Raheem Sterling’s second-half strike has proved enough for England to see off World Cup finalist Croatia in a winning start to the Three Lions’ Euro 2020 campaign on Sunday.
Sterling was put through by an exquisite Kalvin Phillips pass, who bustled his way through the midfield before sliding Sterling in to finish in the 57th minute.
Croatia just lacked a little something in the final third as they pressed for an equalizer.
Gareth Southgate’s side was struggling to break down Croatia until Sterling struck in the second half at sun-baked Wembley.
The 26-year-old’s first goal at a major tournament – in his 13th game – was the perfect riposte to critics who questioned Southgate’s decision to select him instead of Jack Grealish.
Sterling has endured a chequered relationship with England fans after being hounded following his tame performances at Euro 2016.
He also struggled to hold down a place with Premier League champions City this term, culminating in his lackluster display in their Champions League final defeat against Chelsea.
But, days after he was given an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his anti-racism campaigning, Sterling enjoyed a perfectly-timed moment of redemption.
In a rematch of the 2018 World Cup semifinal won by Croatia, England was hampered by a lack of cutting edge until Sterling came to the rescue.
Sterling’s winner eased the tension at Wembley and got fans bellowing “Football’s coming home,” in the hope England can emulate its run to the semifinals when it hosted Euro 96, and maybe even win a major tournament for the first time since the 1966 World Cup.
In truth, this was a far from convincing performance, but Southgate will take heart from the way his team kept its nerve on a pressure-packed occasion.
England host neighbors Scotland in its second Group D match on Friday before taking on the Czech Republic in its final game of the first stage on June 22.