In the immediate, dazzling afterglow of England beating Denmark 2-1 over 120 minutes to secure a first major final appearance since 1966, Gareth Southgate praised his team's resilience.

That quality has always been readily associated with his country's national team. Perhaps you think of Terry Butcher's blood-stained head bandage or Stuart Pearce screaming maniacally after exorcising his penalty shoot-out demons.

Or maybe less successful iterations. Even when they've not been so accomplished on the field, there is a common perception of England being good for going down swinging, raging against the dying of the light to find glory in failure.

Raheem Sterling doesn't fit that template. The Manchester City forward is one of the most successful and decorated players of his generation, with eight major honours to his name at club level, most of which he has played a decisive role in securing.

That sounds like the sort of player who might be England's standout performer as they await Sunday's date with Italy and destiny at Wembley. And he is – at Euro 2020, Sterling has been electrifying as the driving force of Southgate's side.

But the acclaim to match that status has been hard to spot, maddeningly so at certain points of his career. Although he is cut from a different cloth to Butcher, Pearce or the archetypal English "warrior" footballer, Sterling is arguably the most resilient player England has ever seen. Whether he should have to have been so resilient is another matter entirely.

 

From the boy wonder to #TheHatedOne

On Sunday, Sterling goes back to the start, returning again to the stadium that overlooked his boyhood home, the canvas for fantastical daydreams, and to the opponents he faced on his major tournament debut at the 2014 World Cup.

Roy Hodgson's England crashed out without winning a game in Brazil, but none of the blame was pinned on a fresh-faced 19-year-old who represented a hope of better days to come.

Handed the number 10 role behind then club-mate Daniel Sturridge, Sterling dazzled early on in the 2-1 defeat to Italy in Manaus, taking his form from a breakout season at Liverpool into national colours. A now familiar scampering dribble preceded a 25-yard drive that rippled the side netting. So close to the opener and an optical illusion of a goal that sent pints flying in pubs back home.

That was only Sterling's fifth cap and the first time he completed 90 minutes for England, but any honeymoon was over a year later when he was booed during a friendly away to the Republic of Ireland. Dublin is a Liverpool stronghold and the winger's wish to leave Anfield had become laced with bitterness and acrimony.

 

His desire to join City has been vindicated through weight of trophies and achievements, although the jury remained out after a tough first season under Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium and he was the focus of ire during England's unhappy Euro 2016 campaign.

In a social media post, he labelled himself #TheHatedOne following criticism of his performance during the 1-1 draw with Russia. Against Wales, he missed a glorious chance to score and was substituted at half-time.

Sterling returning to the side to win an early penalty was long forgotten by the time minnows Iceland completed their 2-1 last-16 win over Hodgson's beleaguered team. In the days following that debacle, one newspaper branded him "Obscene Raheem" on its front page for "showing off" his "blinging house".

It turned out Sterling bought the property for his mother, who raised him alone in Jamaica and then London after his father was murdered.

 

"I'm not normally the person to talk but when I think I need my point heard I will speak up"

Those early challenges of Sterling's resilience – whatever undertones might have accompanied assertions that he was some sort of ungrateful money grabber – were related to his sporting performance, even if the tabloid takedown was utterly tenuous and tawdry.

Coming through failure on the biggest stages to succeed over and over demonstrates thrilling resilience that fans love to see; the sort of resilience that allows great performers to realise sport's most narratively compelling moments.

But Sterling has also frequently delved into reserves no one should have to call upon in a decent society.

"Someone called my name – my full name – so I thought, 'Oh, they probably know me'. At this point people were starting to recognise me a bit," Sterling told GQ in 2019, recalling the first time he suffered racial abuse after joining Liverpool as a schoolboy.

"He says, 'Can I speak to you for a second?' I said, 'Yeah, no problem.' So I walk across the road and then he says the n-word and he headbutts me.

"I took care of the rest. A hundred per cent he regretted it."

In some ways, it feels like Sterling has been taking care of the rest ever since. Like when he was assaulted and racially abused at City's training ground in December 2017 by a Manchester United supporter. Later that day, he scored twice in a 4-1 win over Tottenham.

Or when he was abused by fans at Stamford Bridge a year later and responded with an eloquent Instagram post calling for equal treatment of black and white footballers in the media, urging an end to any coverage that "helps fuel racism and aggressive behaviour".

Or when he was one of several England players targeted by monkey chants in Montenegro and Bulgaria in 2019, when he scored in 5-1 and 6-0 wins.

Sterling was also at the forefront of football supporting Black Lives Matter following the killing of George Floyd and received an MBE last month in recognition of his work promoting racial equality.

But there was weariness when he discussed his activism in an interview with ITV last week, one that is entirely understandable when a minority of fans boo him and his England colleagues for taking the knee before kick-off – their peaceful, dignified protest against racial injustice.

It feels even more understandable when UK government ministers who gave licence to those booing and dismissed kneeling as a "gesture" are now firing out #ItsComingHome tweets at every opportunity, wearing England shirts or standing on a massive flag.

"It's not something I'm killing myself to do anymore, I'm not going to be on the frontline speaking about it. We're adults enough now to understand these things. I just feel, when it comes to racial abuse, it's not taken seriously," Sterling said.

 

"Everything we have done in the past, without him would not have been possible"

A line of attack for those dubious on Sterling's capabilities over recent years has been to suggest his status as an inspiring role model means shortcomings on the pitch are overlooked.

That specious logic falls down when you consider Pep Guardiola's ruthlessly unsentimental approach to constructing football teams.

Since inheriting Sterling in 2016, he has signed Leroy Sane, Nolito, Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez and Ferran Torres – all players able to operate with some distinction and capped by their countries in wide attacking roles.

Until a poor run of form in the second half of last season, Sterling saw them all off – becoming as close to an untouchable as Guardiola allows. He is one of only three players to have scored 100 goals under the Catalan's management. The others are Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero. 

 

Guardiola does not pick Sterling because he is "an incredible person, incredible human being", as he said in the wake of the Stamford Bridge abuse. In January this year, when Sterling's form was questioned in a news conference, he sharply retorted: "Everything we have done in the past, without him would not have been possible."

When City won the Premier League title with 100 points and also lifted the EFL Cup in 2017-18, Sterling scored 23 goals and supplied 15 assists in all competitions. In 2018-19, when his brace in the FA Cup final helped to round off an unprecedented domestic treble, those numbers were up to 25 goals and 15 assists.

The 2019-20 season was Sterling's most prolific with 31 goals, although it ended with a horror miss in a Champions League quarter-final loss to Lyon. His conversion of opportunities Opta rank as "big chances" was down from 58.1 per cent in 2018-19 to 39.7.

Unreliable finishing remains an unwanted feature of Sterling's game and was once again the focus when goals dried up en route to a third Premier League title in four years last season.

Overall, 24 goal involvements (14 goals and 10 assists) represented his lowest since Guardiola's first season in 2016-17, but far from a disaster. For some, however, it seemed a 30-goal campaign should be the norm and Sterling was useless for falling away from three seasons of incredible consistency.

Just a tap-in merchant who'd been found out. With the likes of Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka in his squad, why on earth would Southgate persist with Sterling?

 

"Have I justified my place in the team?"

It was easy to fear for the player with a tattoo of himself as a boy looking up at the Wembley arch, who appeared wretchedly out of form when recalled for City's Champions League final defeat to Chelsea. The moment he had spent a career and a lifetime anticipating was around the corner and he looked ill-equipped to grasp it.

Plus, England duty under the glare of the nation had previously not been too kind to Sterling. Across 12 games and 828 minutes in major tournaments heading into Euro 2020, he had no goals and one assist.

"It's not been an easy road with the national team in the past. Some, I'd say, unfair flack that I would get before touching a football sometimes," he told BBC Sport

"As a young person it was difficult to deal with. In life and football you have to challenge yourself and take it for what it is. You can't be down on yourself, you have to push yourself even more.

"That's what I've kept doing and I think that's one of my best traits."

 

Sterling performed tirelessly for the cause as England reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, but the paucity of his return in front of goal left him on the outside looking in when it came to the feelgood factor that enveloped the bulk of Southgate's squad.

We're back to the resilience again, because the forward produced the best season of his career in 2018-19 to be named Football Writers' Association Player of the Year. He also enjoyed belated lift-off with the Three Lions.

Heading into an October 2018 Nations League showdown against Spain in Seville, he had two goals and nine assists in 45 caps. He netted two more in a thrilling 3-2 win. From cap 46 to his 67th versus Denmark he has scored 15 and laid on another seven – averaging a goal involvement every 87 minutes.

This is the version of Sterling that Southgate and England have enjoyed so much at Euro 2020, where he sealed 1-0 group stage wins over Croatia and the Czech Republic before breaking the deadlock against Germany to spark round-of-16 pandemonium in his neighbourhood.

It is perhaps a little sweeter that this purple patch for his country has come at a time when relations with Guardiola have come to appear strained. Another example of Sterling being damned with faint praise is his improvement at City being frequently cited – although, it should be said, never by the manager himself – as a triumph of coaching genius as much as his own endeavours.

He ended extra time against Denmark tearing through a shattered opposition defence to draw another save from Kasper Schmeichel. He was everywhere in a performance Gary Lineker hailed as "one of the greatest displays I've seen from a player in an England shirt".

 

Sterling has attempted (32) and completed (18) more dribbles than any other player at Euro 2020. He has never had more touches in the opposition box (38, 13.3 per cent of his overall touches) at any previous tournament. His expected goals (xG) and expected assists (xA) figures of 3.82 and 1.14 are also far in excess of past efforts and paint a picture of a player almost always involved when England create high-quality chances.

This is player-of-the-tournament form. By Sunday night, it might stand as the greatest ever showing in this setting by an Englishman.

But if it all goes wrong, a sitter is missed and the insults fly again – he's a diver now, you see, as well as a tap-in merchant – the seven years since that first tangle with Italy tell us Sterling will bounce back with all the fearlessness, brilliance and resilience we should have long since learned to cherish.

Raheem Sterling has been "unplayable" for England and one last big performance from the Manchester City star could prove to be the difference against Italy.

That is the opinion of former England captain Alan Shearer ahead of the Euro 2020 final at Wembley on Sunday.

England reached their first final at a major tournament since 1966 when they came from behind to beat Denmark 2-1 in extra-time on Wednesday.

Sterling produced an effervescent display and won the controversial penalty that was converted by Harry Kane on the rebound to settle a thrilling contest.

 

Shearer believes the City forward, who scored goals in the wins over Croatia, the Czech Republic and Germany, has been England's standout performer.

"The best two teams in the tournament have reached the final, and it is going to be an incredibly tight game," Shearer wrote in his column for BBC Sport as he previewed the final.

"Italy have gone 33 games without losing which shows how strong they are. They have got the same sort of togetherness in their squad that we have,.

"But England have put in some extremely good performances too, and so many of our players have done their bit when it has mattered.

"It was Harry Kane who put us into the final with the winner on Wednesday and he was excellent for the whole game. So was Harry Maguire, and the rest of our back four too.

"The best player on the park, though, was Raheem Sterling. He was unplayable at times and it was probably his finest game in an England shirt.

"More of the same from Sterling on Sunday, and we have got one hell of a chance.

"The other thing we have got going for us, of course, is the Wembley crowd. There will be more than 65,000 fans again at the final, and the majority of them will be behind England.

"They were immense against Denmark and stuck with the team when they were 1-0 down. The players fed off their intensity when they turned things around."

 

Shearer also paid tribute to manager Gareth Southgate, who was ecstatic on the pitch after the victory over Denmark.

Southgate has made some heavily debated calls in the tournament - including restricting flair players Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho to limited roles – but has led England to their first final for 55 years.

Shearer added: "There are several reasons why I will believe in this England team when they walk out at Wembley on Sunday, and Southgate is the biggest one.

"He's led his team brilliantly in every way since Euro 2020 started and not only has he made some big decisions, he has got all of them right.

"It's easier being a player than a supporter in the stands and, like many of you, I've found it hard in the past few weeks watching on as an England fan when our games have been in the balance.

"Just imagine how tough it is for Gareth, though. As England manager he has got 60 million people on his back because he carries the hopes of all of us, the entire nation.

"There is so much scrutiny on every single call he makes, and then he has to stand alone on the touchline waiting for them to work.

"So I could understand his relief and his reaction at the end of the Denmark game when he let his emotions pour out. He did that because he feels the same way we do when we win.

"Whatever happens next, he has given us so much joy and happiness - but I'm desperate to see that same celebration again from him on Sunday night."

 

Resurgent forward Kane will lead the line for England and he has been directly involved in 28 goals in his past 27 international appearances (19 goals and nine assists).

He has already caught and surpassed the goal total recorded by Shearer (nine) at major tournaments.

One more strike will see him become England’s outright highest goalscorer in the World Cup and Euros – he is currently level with Gary Lineker on 10.

England won the World Cup in 1966 as hosts, but each of the previous two European host nation finalists in a major tournament have lost – Portugal in Euro 2004 and France at the 2016 tournament.

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes England's extra-time penalty in Wednesday's 2-1 Euro 2020 semi-final win over Denmark should not have been awarded.

Harry Kane scored England's 104th-minute winner, firing home the rebound after his spot-kick was initially saved by Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

Raheem Sterling won the penalty going down on the byline on the right side of the box under pressure from Joakim Maehle.

Sterling claimed post-game it was a "clear penalty" but Wenger - who is now FIFA's Chief of Global Football Development - disagreed, insisting the VAR should have summoned referee Danny Makkelie to look at the replay at least.

"No penalty. In a moment like that, I don’t understand why they [the VAR] didn't ask the referee to have a look at it to be clear," Wenger said on beIN SPORTS.

"In a moment like that it's important the referee is absolutely convinced it was a penalty. It was not clear enough to say 'yes it is'.

"He should've at least had a look at the screen. I don’t know why the VAR didn't ask him to go."

The 71-year-old former Arsenal boss did not go as far as saying the VAR had let down Denmark, labelling them "unfortunate".

"I think the VAR has let the referee down, not Denmark," Wenger said.

"Denmark is a bit unfortunate. It's difficult for the referee but he must have a look at it."

The penalty was the 17th awarded at Euro 2020, with Kane's initial effort becoming the eighth spot-kick missed.

Only 13 penalties were awarded in total in the group stages of the past three European Championships.

Last week, UEFA chief refereeing officer Robert Rosetti attributed VAR for the rise in penalties at this tournament.

England will play Italy in Sunday's Euro 2020 final at Wembley.

Raheem Sterling claimed there was contact from Denmark's Joakim Maehle before he went to ground to win the decisive penalty in England's 2-1 European Championship semi-final victory.

The decision to award England a penalty after 102 minutes of play at Wembley stood up to a VAR check and Harry Kane had the spot-kick saved before he buried the rebound past Kasper Schmeichel.

Earlier, England had fallen behind to a superb long-range free-kick from Mikkel Damsgaard before Sterling forced an equaliser that went in off Simon Kjaer.

Sterling said he felt the decision to award the penalty in extra time was correct, telling ITV: "I went into the box, he stuck his right leg out and it touched my leg so it's a clear penalty.

"As long as it goes in the back of the net, that's all that matters."

Sterling has scored three times on England's route to the final at Wembley, where they will play Italy on Sunday evening.

The Manchester City forward said the experience of bouncing back after conceding their first goal of the tournament would stand England in good stead against Roberto Mancini's Azzurri.

"It was a top performance," said the 26-year-old. "We had to dig in deep. "It was the first time we conceded but we responded well and showed good spirit.

"We knew it would be difficult. We stayed patient and we knew the legs and aggressiveness we have in the team we'd be okay.

"It's another step in the right direction. We have to focus on the weekend now. It's step-by-step. We know what football means to this country. The energy, the atmosphere...it was top.

"Now we have Italy. We will celebrate a little bit then focus on Italy."

John Stones extended his arm and held up a palm. Stop. Breathe.

It was time for Jordan Pickford to calm down. No time for bedlam.

The Everton goalkeeper headed into Wednesday's Euro 2020 semi-final encounter with Denmark in superb form, yet to be beaten in the tournament.

In the 27th minute at Wembley, Pickford moved on to 720 minutes without conceding a goal for England, breaking a record set by the great Gordon Banks between May and July 1966. We all know how that tournament ended and how none have ended like it in the 55 years and four semi-final defeats since.

But by the time Pickford pouched that piece of history, events had already started to turn.

After Kalvin Phillips erred to allow a shot from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Pickford frantically sought to launch an attack - his distribution often such a plus for Gareth Southgate. He hurled the ball straight at Mikkel Damsgaard, who understandably seemed a little surprised by that.

A passage of gasping, pulse-quickening mistakes ended with Martin Braithwaite having a shot deflected behind for a corner. England emerged unscathed but robbed entirely of their early poise.

Damsgaard, Braithwaite and Kasper Dolberg were finding pockets of space all across the turf, with England's plan for snuffing out Denmark's lightning breaks apparently amounting to little more than Kyle Walker being terrifyingly fast. He's terrifyingly brilliant, too, but still...

Too much was passing England's defensive midfield block by. Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips did not make a tackle between them in the first half. Tottenham's Hojbjerg, patrolling central areas expertly alongside Thomas Delaney, snapped into five all by himself.

Rice was caught napping by Dolberg, who was brought down by Mason Mount. That's what friends are for.

A relatively unthreatening free-kick became a threatening one as Luke Shaw wrapped his arms around Andreas Christensen defending the initial set-piece. From 30 yards, Damsgaard creamed a delightful strike beyond Pickford, who will think he should have done better.

 

In calmer times, perhaps he would. Then there was further skittishness, prompting centre-back Stones to intervene.

Contrary to Pickford's need to slow down, England's best moments came when they dared Denmark to find a solution to Bukayo Saka's quicksilver pace and Raheem Sterling's restless, relentless, intelligent movement.

Sterling started the game tearing mercilessly after the right-hand side of the Danish defence. He should have done better after cutting inside Christensen and scuffing a shot too close to Kasper Schmeichel.

A scuff would have done the job in the 38th minute, when Sterling met Saka's low cross sweetly and Schmeichel saved improbably. But the seed was planted – more ice-cool work in behind from Saka, more scrambled brains as Sterling made a nuisance of himself, with the result an own goal for skipper Simon Kjaer.

The contest continued in that vein throughout the second half, when whichever side found themselves on the backfoot appeared to be operating in a state of anguish. The occasion simultaneously fuelled its protagonists and threatened to blow up in their faces. Pickford saved sharply from Dolberg, unaware of the offside flag

Into the final 20 minutes of normal time and the highest stakes elite football was operating under park rules: next goal wins. Southgate's team are gloriously unburdened by England's tragicomic history. But no footballer with a pulse would be unburdened by such a present.

Jack Grealish was on but Kasper Hjulmand used his bench more boldly, sending on Yussuf Poulsen and Christian Norgaard for the impressive Damsgaard and Dolberg. Or was it more desperately, as Rice and Phillips (95.2 and 90.2 per cent pass completion) emerged from choppy waters to gradually exert control and wrestle the opponents deeper.

Six minutes of stoppage time: would you even dare? Sterling still asked questions of defenders with no remaining appetite for such trivia. Fouls piled up, bodies were on the line. This was how England tended to conclude big knockout games but Denmark reached the sanctuary of full-time.

 

Still Southgate kept his talent-stacked bench sheathed. Harry Kane fired towards Schmeichel on the angle. No one was there for the rebound. Fresh legs might have been.

And so, they arrived. Phil Foden instantly schemed with bad intentions, briefly lifting kindred-spirit Grealish in the process.

Sterling still schemed with bad intentions and found himself lying at the feet of Jannik Vestergaard, which felt mocking because the hulking centre-back looked like the biggest, tiredest man in the whole world.

The Manchester City forward was on the floor due to some combination of contact from Joakim Maehle and Mathias Jensen. Danny Makkelie ruled it was enough for a penalty.

Stop. Breathe.

Saved? No problem. Harry Kane never needs to calm down with a loose ball and a goal in front of him.

2-1. It was time for bedlam.

Throw them to the lions!

England's bloodlust was dramatically sated in Rome's modern sporting colosseum as Ukraine were ruthlessly torn apart, victims of such savagery that might make an emperor think he could soon rule Europe.

Four-nil, and even Jordan Henderson scored. England doubled their goals haul for Euro 2020 and have still yet to concede. This is Italian-like behaviour by the Three Lions. Where was the drama, where was the pain? This team rarely make it easy for themselves but here they trampled all over the opposition.

Goodness knows what Denmark made of it all, given they are next in line.

Home advantage at Wembley seemed to serve Gareth Southgate's players well in their early games at this tournament, and being taken out of that comfort zone triggered all sorts of concerns. If goals had been hard to come by at home, then would this be one of those nights of England toil, where perhaps they might grind out something ugly and winning but perhaps their bubble might burst too? Would it all end miserably, probably on penalties in that great English tradition.

By the time substitute Henderson nodded Mason Mount's corner past Georgi Bushchan for the fourth goal of the night, any such concerns had long been banished.

The Liverpool captain's first senior England goal arrived on his 62nd appearance. Of all England's goalscorers in their history, nobody has waited longer for that magical moment. Sol Campbell had been the previous holder of that curious record, scoring his first in his 47th appearance.

It was a third headed goal of the night, England now Europe's masters at using their noggins, netting 10 headers across this campaign and their 2018 World Cup semi-final run, where no other European side has managed more than four.

This team plays some beautiful football on the floor, with Jadon Sancho coming into the England ranks for this game and looking like he had been playing there all throughout this run, which will come as good news to Manchester United. Raheem Sterling's winding run and super throughball for Harry Kane to prod the fourth-minute opener was typical of this new England.

 

"I think rotations in the forward area for this team is so important," Rio Ferdinand said on the BBC at half-time. "People that run off the ball, run people away – it's not there for the naked eye sometimes, but it's people who are running people away, opening space and creating space."

Alan Shearer chipped in too: "Everyone's on the same wavelength, everyone wants the ball, backing each other up. It's really, really intelligent, exciting play."

But England do not eschew the direct stuff; Luke Shaw with a free-kick bang into the heart of the penalty area to set up Harry Maguire for the thumping 46th-minute header that made it 2-0, sparking joyous celebration.

And then Shaw with the delicious cross to give Kane the chance to nod England three clear just four minutes later.

Shaw, it should be said, was exceptional.

In the stadium where Jose Mourinho will resume his coaching career in the new Serie A season, as boss of Roma, Shaw provided the perfect response to his former Manchester United manager's recent criticism.

Mourinho reckoned Shaw's set-piece delivery in England's group game against the Czech Republic had been "dramatically bad", but even the Portuguese might shrink from picking any holes in this display.

It was remarkable that Kane finished as the Premier League's top scorer in Mourinho's muddle of a Tottenham side last season, and absurd that a couple of so-so performances for England early in this tournament should have led to doubt being cast on his place in Southgate's team.

He now has three goals in Euro 2020 and nine major tournament strikes across his England career, one behind all-time leader Gary Lineker.

Kane almost reached 10 in Rome, lashing a brilliant volley that was beaten away by Bushchan for the corner from which Henderson scored.

History told us that this game would go to penalties – all three of England's previous European Championship quarter-finals had.

Yet new England have little respect for anything that history might dictate, and now Wembley awaits them on Wednesday. England return home as heroes.

"It's the hope that kills you," Lineker joked on the BBC. To any English person used to failure, this all feels too good to be true.

But as Southgate said, teeing up the Denmark game moments later: "Everybody can really look forward to that, it's brilliant."

Former England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson believes Manchester United will be completely convinced Jadon Sancho is poised to become one of football's biggest stars.

United and Borussia Dortmund have agreed a deal in principle for the transfer of Sancho, which is worth around £73million and expected to be completed after his involvement in Euro 2020.

Winger Sancho is reportedly poised to make his first start in the competition when England do battle against Ukraine in Rome on Saturday.

Leaked team news ahead of the quarter-final tie suggests Bukayo Saka is struggling through injury and that Sancho will get a chance to start on the right wing, with Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling completing the trio who will provide support to lone striker Harry Kane.

 

Sancho has featured for just six minutes in the tournament so far, despite scoring 50 goals and providing 57 assists in 137 appearances across all competitions for Dortmund.

He became the first Englishman to reach at least 10 assists for three straight seasons in Europe's top-five leagues since former United star David Beckham, who achieved the feat between 1997-98 and 2000-01.

Indeed, only Thomas Muller (48) and Lionel Messi (43) have managed to provide more assists at that league level since the start of the 2018-19 campaign than Sancho (41).

Ex-Manchester City boss Eriksson is sure United would not have made such a big move in a transfer market that is seeing club finances impacted by the coronavirus pandemic without having certainty.

"He's 21 years old and he should have a great future," Eirksson told Stats Perform.

"The scouts and the coaches of Manchester United, they have will have looked at that 100 times. 

"They are sure that the this player will be the future, important in the future otherwise they wouldn't pay all that money. 

"So when he's coming back to England then there no doubts about it. 

"I don't see many games from German league but what I can understand is that he's a great talent and it is interesting to see him.

"There you have it with how important the Premier League is. They can take all the best players in the world and that is good for England."

 

Sterling, meanwhile, has scored in 13 matches for England and whenever he has done so the Three Lions have gone on to achieve victory.

A disappointing conclusion to his season individually for City meant many doubters were questioning his starting place for the Euros but he has responded emphatically with three goals.

Eriksson believes Sterling is primed to star further in the latter stages now that he has his confidence back.

"He is that kind of player who can create by himself, even when he is one against one with his speed and so on," added Eriksson. 

"But also, which is very important in these knockout games – so important – he has the confidence now. 

"He is sure he can create against any team – against anyone. So that means a lot when you go into this game against Ukraine. 

"And that's why I said also about Harry Kane – he was successful during [just] some minutes in the last game, but that was enough, because he scored. 

"Sterling, yes, he thinks he's the best in the world today. And maybe he is, but just that he thinks he is the best in the world is extremely important and he will create a lot of problems for Ukraine."

The rest of England's team will reportedly see Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice continue as a duo in central midfield, with a back four of Luke Shaw, John Stones, Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker in front of goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

That would mean Aston Villa talisman Jack Grealish has to settle for a place among the substitutes.

Oleksandr Zinchenko says Ukraine must find a way to stop the "amazing" Raheem Sterling but they should not fear facing England in a Euro 2020 quarter-final on Saturday.

Ukraine beat Sweden 2-1 after extra time at Hampden Park on Tuesday courtesy of a last-gasp winner from Artem Dovbyk.

Andriy Shevchenko's side travel to Rome to face the Three Lions at the Stadio Olimpico, with Gareth Southgate's side having beaten Germany 2-0 at Wembley.

Sterling opened the scoring for England with his third goal of the tournament before Harry Kane sealed the victory.

Zinchenko, who was on target in the win over Sweden, knows Ukraine will have to keep a close eye on his Manchester City team-mate in the Eternal City.

"Raheem Sterling is one of the best wingers in the world. Right now he is in amazing form," said the full-back.

"He is great, he makes the difference. We obviously need to pay attention to him and we will need to try to somehow stop him because he’s on a roll now.

"Who is the strongest opponent that I have ever played? I have said several times that it's the footballers from Manchester City, those that I see every day at training."

 

England are the only team in the tournament who have not conceded a goal but Zinchenko says Ukraine should be motivated by the challenge of breaching their resolute defence.

"It is really difficult to score against England, they are really well organised," said Zinchenko.

"They have a really good set of footballers and the substitute bench probably costs [the same] as three Ukrainian teams.

"This shouldn't be really scary for us, this should motivate us. We need to give ourselves the highest aims, the highest goals, and I am sure that the coaching team will get the strategy for us.

"I sense myself that everything is possible in this life and we will do everything we can for it. I've watched pretty much all the games that England have played, except today because we were getting ready for our game.

"The first thing that I noticed is I know quite a lot of those players personally because I see them in the Premier League."

After Monday saw a shock exit for world champions France and 14 goals across two games, Tuesday's last-16 ties at Euro 2020 had plenty to live up to.

But, while there was not quite as much goalmouth action this time around, there were plenty of intriguing talking points as two more sides booked their place in the quarter-finals.

First up, England claimed their first ever knockout-stage victory inside 90 minutes at a European Championship, vanquishing old rivals Germany at Wembley.

And then Ukraine needed the second-latest goal in the tournament's history to edge out Sweden in a tense battle for a last-eight berth.

Here, Stats Perform looks at the key Opta stats from another thrilling day of Euros action.

 

 

England 2-0 Germany: Three Lions break tournament hoodoo

England came into their last-16 tie knowing they would need to beat Germany in a competitive game at Wembley for the first time since the 1966 World Cup final to seal their place in the next round.

That this dismal three-match run against their rivals was finally ended owes much to Raheem Sterling, who bagged the opener to extend what has been a hugely successful tournament thus far.

The Manchester City forward has now scored 15 goals in his last 20 appearances in all competitions for England having gone 27 games without finding the net prior to this run.

His latest strike also meant he became only the second player to score each of the Three Lions' first three goals of an edition of a major tournament after Gary Lineker did so at the 1986 World Cup.

England are now 15 games unbeaten at Wembley in major tournaments and will hope to earn the chance to extend that run in the semi-finals and final this summer by getting past Ukraine in the quarters in Rome this weekend.

As for Germany, they saw the Joachim Low era end with a fifth winless game from their last six at the European Championships (D2 L3).

 

Ukraine 2-1 Sweden (aet): Shevchenko's men leave it late

Ukraine looked like they might cruise into the quarters when a dominant start was capped by Oleksandr Zinchenko becoming the fifth different City player to net at this year's Euros (a figure only matched by Atalanta).

But they perhaps did not account for Emil Forsberg grabbing his customary goal to become the first Sweden player to score in three consecutive major tournament appearances since Kennet Andersson at the 1994 World Cup.

With neither side able to add to those strikes in regulation, extra time was required for a fourth occasion in this year's last 16 – the most ever in a single knockout round at any European Championship.

However, the match would not reach penalties, with Artem Dovbyk scoring the second-latest goal in European Championship history (120 minutes and 37 seconds) to win it.

Only Turkey's Semih Senturk has managed to score later in a Euros match, doing so after 121 minutes and one second against Croatia in 2008.

As a result, Ukraine secured their place in the quarter-finals of a major tournament for only the second time (the last coming in the 2006 World Cup), while Sweden made it three knockout-stage defeats from three at the Euros (also against Germany in 1992 and the Netherlands in 2004).

England’s last-16 win over Germany at Euro 2020 proved their doubters wrong as Gareth Southgate’s side seized the chance to create their own piece of history at Wembley, according to Declan Rice.

A cagey contest was finally cracked open in the 75th minute when Raheem Sterling scored his third goal of the tournament, making it 15 in his past 20 outings at international level.

Thomas Muller fluffed a glorious chance to equalise before Harry Kane doubled the lead, heading home Jack Grealish’s cross to seal a place in the next round.

England lost on penalties to Germany in the semi-finals of the 1996 edition at the historic venue – albeit it has been rebuilt since then – but Rice was delighted to play his part in a famous triumph, one that was delivered after the squad received criticism for their displays in the group stage.

"It's incredible. A lot of people looked at the end of the group stage and they had written us off," Rice told BBC Sport.

"Complaints about the performances, not scoring enough goals. You read a load of things. But, as players, you put that to the back of your minds and want to prove people wrong.

"I think today, in front of a full house, everyone had that fire in their belly to go out there and, for one, knock Germany out of the tournament and, two, progress to the next round.

"It's history. In the press conferences this week all the players have been asked about the previous games with Germany. Today we created our own bit of history, we've made the most of the opportunity on the pitch."

 

England will play the winners of the clash between Sweden and Ukraine next in Rome, with success on Italian soil then leading to a semi-final appearance back at Wembley.

For Rice, the bond within the squad has built belief that something special can be achieved, particularly with the final also taking place in London.

"We don't want to get too ahead of ourselves. Saturday, we travel to Rome for a massive game and we want to win that and progress to the semi-finals," the West Ham midfielder said.

"All I can say today, is the players, the fans, the occasion, how we were up for in the changing room... I've not been part of a team with a togetherness like this.

"We are all in it with each other, we really believe we have the quality and, with the tournament pretty much being at Wembley, we can keep progressing."

Sterling, who revealed he briefly feared his opening goal was set to be ruled out for an offside decision, made clear how pivotal Rice and midfield partner Kalvin Phillips had been to the victory, the latter regaining possession 11 times - the most by an England player in a European Championship fixture since Tony Adams (13) in 1996.

"We knew the intensity we can play at and not a lot of teams can deal with it," Sterling told BBC Sport. "The two players in midfield, Declan and Kalvin, they ate up the grass and were animals in there.

"We take it game by game, recover and focus for the next one."

England have now kept clean sheets in their opening four matches at a major tournament for just the second time, the other occasion coming when they went on to lift the World Cup in 1966.

Gareth Southgate was keen to dismiss any relevance whatsoever surrounding his moment of personal despair 25 years ago, the last time England and Germany met at Wembley in a major tournament.

But his team-sheet felt like a nod towards the kit he wore as a young, accomplished defender who erred in an-era defining moment of Euro 96 penalty shoot-out heartache.

The England XI he sent out on Tuesday was grey. Very grey. Potentially and hopefully granite like, but definitely dull.

There was no great surprise. A line-up of five defenders and two sitting midfielders had been widely floated before kick-off and the approach was of a type with England's group-stage efforts of two goals scored and none conceded in three matches.

The clarity of Southgate's game plans have been a strength of his reign and account for the goodwill towards him in the England squad. Players are rarely left scratching their heads by a manager who has their back.

But as Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, Jude Bellingham and all their considerable creative gifts shuffled into position on the substitutes' bench, it was hard to escape the sense of Southgate missing a trick.

Wing-back to the future

Either side of a raucous 4-2 win over Portugal – one that persuaded an entirely sensible switch to England's wing-back system – Germany were fortunate to only lose 1-0 to France and scraped a chaotic 2-2 draw against Hungary to squeak through to the knockout rounds. They were unquestionably vulnerable.

Southgate could rightly contest that going gung-ho against elite opponents has rarely ended well during the nation's 55 years of hurt, but the start was ominous.

Slow possession from kick-off saw Raheem Sterling, one of three attack-minded players in the XI, come deep and pass to Harry Maguire. Hoof! Then another one from goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

 

Defensive numbers would be a moot point if England just kept giving the ball away to technically accomplished midfielders such as Leon Goretzka, who an overrun Declan Rice hauled down for a desperate eighth-minute foul that saw him booked.

Arm-wrestling the rippling Goretzka would probably be an awful experience, but that was effectively how England engaged Germany during a first half they gradually and painstakingly shoved into their favour.

Sterling and Bukayo Saka buzzed effervescently, too often lacking support. Kalvin Phillips burnished his ever-growing reputation as he faced down Goretzka, Toni Kroos and the roving Kai Havertz, while Kyle Walker, John Stones and the excellent Maguire encouraged their team out of a defensive shell and up the field.

Pragmatism wins prizes

Southgate's template is one that necessitates half chances taken and key moments won. Jordan Pickford did his bit with a brilliant save in each half, but Harry Kane's heavy touch towards the end of the first half showed him grasping for form. Alan Shearer branded that lost opportunity "a sitter" in his role as pundit on BBC.

It is a method that won Portugal Euro 2016 and France the 2018 World Cup, with extreme pragmatism laying a foundation for attackers flecked with magic to do the rest. But Portugal and France are already out here and Kane looked a shadow of the himself, unfit to be Southgate's Ronaldo.

Drift was an inadequate description for an unremarkable second half, given everything from the football to the tension felt so heavy. Finally, Southgate turned to his bench for some of Grealish's sparkle 69 minutes in.

Sterling had started to turn towards blind alleys rather than open spaces and relished a willing accomplice as he drove in field. Kane recycled possession to Grealish, who found Shaw. There was familiar Euro 2020 punctuation to a crisp move. England 1-0, Sterling.

 

Once again the toast of his boyhood neighbourhood after his third goal of the competition, the Manchester City forward erred horribly with pass towards his own goal in the 81st minute. Thomas Muller was through, but the inevitable didn't happen.

Then a moment of salvation for Kane and his country, stooping to head home, with Grealish and Shaw again involved. Job done, demons slayed.

Perhaps we linger too much on results and let them paper over performances, but results are the strongest currency of all in tournament football. To put it in context, this was England's first win in a major knockout match over a country with a world title to their name since overcoming West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final.

Whether it's coming home or not, Southgate and his players have breached unchartered territory.

An expectation to take the game to Sweden or Ukraine in a Rome quarter-final will inevitably bring more cries against caution. But those are tomorrow's problems in Southgate's summer of Sterling.

England will have to overcome a wretched record in European Championship knockout matches if they are to get past their old nemesis Germany in the round of 16 on Tuesday.

The Three Lions go into the match having never won a knockout game in 90 minutes at the Euros, with four of their previous six attempts ending level and two leading to defeats.

Four of those past instances went to penalty shootouts and England only progressed from one of them, against Spain in Euro 96.

That victory came at Wembley, so perhaps the locale of Tuesday's clash will at least provide England with an edge – after all, they are unbeaten in their 14 Euros and World Cup matches (excluding penalty shootouts) at the 'Home of Football'.

 

While former Germany international Stefan Effenberg suggested that all the pressure will be on England because of the home crowd, Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate senses an opportunity.

The rivalry may be weighted more towards England in terms of the significance attached to these fixtures, but Southgate was keen to impress on his players that history is within their grasp.

"It's a great opportunity for this team to make some history and give people memories of England-Germany fixtures for the future that are a little different to some of the ones they've been flooded with over the last few days, which mean absolutely nothing to them because they weren't born," Southgate said.

"The game is probably worthy of more than the second-round stage. We're playing against a very good side.

"They won't fear coming to Wembley. We'll have to play at our very best. We've got to be tactically, physically and psychologically well-prepared."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

England – Raheem Sterling

With Harry Kane faltering in the group stage, looking a shadow of the sharpshooter who is usually so reliable for Tottenham and England, the goalscoring burden has fallen on Sterling. Despite a disappointing second half to 2020-21, the Manchester City winger has scored both of the Three Lions' Euro 2020 goals, taking him to 14 in his past 19 appearances for his country after just two in his first 45 caps.

 

Germany – Kai Havertz

From an individual perspective, Havertz's first season at Chelsea was not especially impressive. Having been roundly criticised in England during 2020-21, he will surely be eager to catch the eye here, and given his start to the tournament, many would back him to do just that. He's already got two goals, though the fact his non-penalty xG of 2.7 is the highest of anyone in the tournament suggests he's been a threat beyond those two efforts. For example, the total xG of sequences he has been involved in (3.8) is bettered by only Pedri (4.6 - before Spain played Croatia) and Memphis Depay (4.4). Write him off at your peril.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Germany's Ilkay Gundogan has scored twice at Wembley, for Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League final and for Manchester City in the Premier League. He could become just the second player to score at the ground for a club side and the German national team after Per Mertesacker.

- This will be the 13th meeting between England and Germany at Wembley. England won four of the first five such games (L1), including the 1966 World Cup final, but are winless in their previous seven against the Germans at the national stadium (D2 L5).

- This will be England's 300th international match at Wembley, with this the 77th match they will have played at the new site since it reopened in 2007. The Three Lions have won 187 times at this venue (D73 L39).

- Germany have reached at least the semi-final in each of the last three editions of the European Championship. Indeed, since the tournament was expanded in 1996, the Germans have reached at least the last four of the competition each time they have progressed to the knockout stages.

- Germany have conceded at least once in each of their previous eight matches at major tournaments (Euros and World Cup), since a 3-0 win against Slovakia at this stage of Euro 2016. Only once have had they had a longer run without a major tournament clean sheet, which was in their first nine World Cup matches between 1934 and 1954.

The Premier League's big-money clubs are circling for Aston Villa's Jack Grealish.

The England midfielder is drawing interest from multiple suitors keen to lure him away from Villa Park.

Could a move be on the cards after the Euros? 

 

TOP STORY – BLUES WANT GREALISH

Chelsea are strong contenders to sign Jack Grealish from Aston Villa, Football Insider reports. 

The England international has also drawn interest from Manchester City, but the Blues' involvement could change the dynamic. 

Football Insider claims owner Roman Abramovich has approved the type of expenditures that would be necessary to land players like Grealish, and winning the Champions League will only loosen the reins on Chelsea's spending. 

 

ROUND-UP

- Kylian Mbappe wants to move on from Paris Saint-Germain, according to RMC Sport, which says the France international will depart on a free transfer when his contract expires next year if he does not move during this window. 

- Lionel Messi's long-anticipated new contract with Barcelona could be announced as soon as Thursday, according to Le 10 Sport. 

- If Man City are to complete a deal to land Harry Kane from Tottenham, they will need to do it without using Raheem Sterling in a swap deal. Sterling has no interested in joining Spurs as part of the reported £100million move for Kane, ESPN said. 

- Sergio Ramos plans to join PSG, AS reports, spurning interest from City and Manchester United

- Chelsea see Villarreal's Gerard Moreno as a fall-back option if they cannot sign Erling Haaland, according to Fichajes. 

- Milan are looking at Rafinha of PSG as a potential addition as Hakan Calhanoglu moves on, Calciomercato reports. 

- England defender James Tarkowski is drawing interest from Wolves and West Ham, the Telegraph reports, while the Mail says Leicester City also are eyeing the Burnley man. 

- Scott Parker is set to depart Fulham and become Bournemouth's new manager, The Athletic reports. 

When Luke Shaw lifted a delightful ball over the top of the Czech Republic defence during the early stages of England's 1-0 Euro 2020 win on Friday, Raheem Sterling was away.

Of course he was. The Manchester City's forwards intelligent, incisive movement has been a vital asset for club and country over the past five years – a period in which he has become one of his country's most decorated footballers in terms of major honours.

But what would happen next?

Could it be as bad as that time he blazed over two clear chances in the Manchester derby on a day City were 2-0 up and set to win the league against their bitter rivals and lost 3-2?

Maybe it would end up as wince-inducing as the open goal he missed when his club crashed out of the Champions League against Lyon in 2020 at the quarter-final stage, or the two-yard miss that persuaded Pep Guardiola to immediately substitute him at Burnley two years earlier?

Or the full campaign at Russia 2018 when he did not find the net during England's run to the semi-finals?

Yes, Sterling misses chances. Quite a lot of quite good ones.

 

According to Opta, he scored 11 but missed 19 of the 'big chances' that fell his way for the Premier League champions in all competitions last season. It was part of the reason Guardiola increasingly left him on the bench.

But Sterling is the sort of player who always comes back for more. The sort who never hides – a quality that starts to look increasingly valuable amid the vicious maelstrom that is England at a major tournament.

Joy delayed but not denied

As it happened, the shot was not one to fit in with that catalogue of misses. Sterling dispatched a deft lob over Tomas Vaclik and was unfortunate to see the effort ricochet clear off the post, continuing a strange quirk for England games in this tournament. In the early knockings versus Croatia and Scotland, Phil Foden and John Stones each rattled uprights.

As was the case in both of those games, even the dour draw with Scotland – where Sterling created the best chance of the night for Mason Mount and had a reasonable late penalty claim rejected – the forward was a nuisance.

Gareth Southgate's decision to bow to the Jack Grealish clamour and give Bukayo Saka a surprise start gave England a little more vibrancy, also allowing Sterling to pester the opposition defence more centrally and ensure Harry Kane was a less isolated figure. The England captain went close but remains without a goal in this tournament. Only one player has manged to score for the Three Lions.

You might struggle to remember Sterling was the matchwinner on the opening weekend against Croatia. Calls for Grealish and the perplexingly sidelined Jadon Sancho have left Sterling as a casualty in the XIs of many a pundit and fan.

 

The 26-year-old's vile treatment by a section of the tabloid press has been well documented. But Sterling scepticism goes far beyond such reactionary outposts.

After his second-half strike sunk Croatia and sent England on their way to top spot in the group, the BBC television interviewer asked whether Sterling had justified his place in the team, despite being the Three Lions' top scorer from open play since Russia 2018.

The Athletic, very much the antithesis of the UK red tops, ran an article in the build-up to the Czech Republic game where eight of its writers picked their England XI. Two featured Sterling.

The annoying one

He is, at times, an annoying footballer. That is not just down to the catalogue of horror misses outlined above.

A source told Stats Perform last year that an aspect of improvement identified for Sterling by Guardiola's coaching staff was his control of the ball, which seems a staggeringly basic thing for a star forward in a high-end football team. There was an example of this when he sold Kalvin Phillips short with a very routine pass after half-time, forcing the Leeds United midfielder into a foul for which he was fortunate not to be booked.

But again, we return to that capacity to make things happen, which feels vital for an England team constructing 90-minute portions where not much happens.

When things do happen, it is thrilling and you wish they happened more often.

Saka tore at the Czech Republic in the 12th minute – left-back Jan Boril will not reflect too fondly upon having shared a pitch with the livewire Arsenal youngster.

His eventual delivery found its way to Grealish, who clipped a delightful left-footed cross to the back post. Sterling couldn't miss. Well, as discussed above, he could. But he didn't, nodding home to stand tall in a time of need for Southgate once more.

Saka and Grealish hogged the initial post-match conversation, not undeservedly. Stones and the returning Harry Maguire marshalled the backline superbly and Luke Shaw impressed going backwards and forwards.

Three clean sheets out of three are not to be sniffed at. But England's tendency for lulls in-game and to trudge through some stodgy moments still feels regrettable given the attacking talent at Southgate's disposal.

 

The Czech Republic were beaten 5-0 in the opening qualifier for Euro 2020 and England looked a team to be feared in a way they don't right now. Sterling, in red-hot form, scored a hat-trick.

Whether his national team are soaring high or quietly plugging, time and again he has shown his worth.

There are plenty of causes for concern around this England team. The man who has scored the winning goal in each of their victories and always makes life miserable for opposition defenders is absolutely not one of them.

Stop dropping Sterling from the XIs you put on Twitter. It makes you look silly.

Raheem Sterling scored his second goal of Euro 2020 as England beat the Czech Republic 1-0 to win Group D and ensure they will play at Wembley in the round of 16.

Sterling headed home in the first half of the Three Lions' final group game to move Gareth Southgate's side above their opponents and set up a showdown with France, Germany, Portugal or Hungary next Tuesday.

The Czech Republic had their chances and must wait to discover their next opponents after slipping to third as a result of Croatia's 3-1 win over Scotland.

Jack Grealish and Bukayo Saka impressed as they came into the side along with Harry Maguire, who played 90 minutes on his return from an ankle injury for an England side that have not conceded a goal in the tournament.

The Three Lions started with great intensity and they were almost in front when Sterling lobbed Tomas Vaclik but struck the far post after he was picked out by a clever pass from Luke Shaw.

Sterling did not have long to wait for the opening goal, though, nodding home from close range 12 minutes in when the influential Grealish stood up a delightful cross from the left to the back post in a move that started with an incisive run from Saka.

Vaclik denied Harry Kane with a reflex save following a brilliant pass from Maguire, but the Czech Republic also had their chances in an entertaining first half.

Tomas Holes forced a fine reflex save from Jordan Pickford with a powerful strike and Tomas Soucek flashed a shot just wide, before Kane called Vaclik into action once again.

Both sides made a change at the break, Jordan Henderson replacing Declan Rise and Petr Sevcik on for Jakub Jankto.

The Czech Republic suffered a blow when Jan Boril was booked for a foul on the lively Saka, ruling him out of his side's last-16 tie.

Henderson had a late goal disallowed, but England responded to a lacklustre display in a goalless draw with Scotland with a second 1-0 win of the tournament.

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