England kicked off their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign in the same place they hope it will finish in 16 months time.
Wembley Stadium will play host to the final of the European Championships next July. After the Three Lion’s semi-final showing at last year’s World Cup, fans will be confident of going one better come 2020. These hopes have certainly not been dampened after tonight’s highly competent performance. England looked slick, fluid and confident. With an assured display and an assortment of exciting young prospects stepping up, the future looks promising for the Three Lions.
Ben Chilwell, Michael Keane and Jadon Sancho were the only players starting who did not feature in England’s historic run to the last four in Russia. Declan Rice was on the bench for the first time after switching his international allegiance from the Republic of Ireland. The West Ham youngster has really caught the eye this season and was rewarded with his first England call up.
Eric Dier limped off after 17 minutes. Gareth Southgate opted for the experience of Ross Barkley over the youthfulness of Declan Rice as his replacement.
England start quickly
England dominated possession in the opening exchanges and spent much of the first 20 minutes camped in the Czech half without troubling their backline. But after 24 minutes, England created the game’s first opportunity and broke the deadlock. Harry Kane slipped a beautiful pass in between the Czech Republic defence to set Jadon Sancho away. The Borussia Dortmund youngster’s perfectly weighted cross was turned in by a lunging Raheem Sterling to top off a superb team move.
On the brink of half time, England doubled their lead. Sterling jinked his way into the penalty area before being sandwiched between Pavel Kaderabek and Thomas Kalas. Kane slammed in the subsequent spot kick, burying the ball in vintage Harry Kane style. The hosts went in at halftime leading comfortably. The Three Lions had looked good going forward so far. In particular, the dynamic front three of Sancho, Sterling and Kane looked very dangerous. England’s goal was hardly threatened.
But five minutes into the second half the visitors created their first opening. Tomas Soucek sent a glancing header from a freekick a whisker wide, before another set piece was poorly defended. David Pavelka was unable to capitalise, his prodded effort straight at Pickford. Having dominated proceedings in the first half, England were on the back foot, the Czech Republic revitalised.
England bite back
It was a much needed wake up call for England, who found their feet once more. Sancho had a well worked effort from a Kane cross well saved. And just after the hour, England extended their lead. Kyle Walker surged forward, his through ball was cut out before it fell to Sterling. The Man City star effortlessly curled the ball into the net, an exquisite finish demonstrating the confidence, class and composure that has been a weekly occurrence for Sterling this season. Declan Rice was handed his much-anticipated debut, as he replaced Dele Alli just after the hour mark.
On 69 minutes, Sterling capped off a flawless performance as he sealed his hattrick with a deflected effort from outside the box. It was a mark of the vast improvement seen in the 24-year-old’s cutting edge in the final third this season. Having previously been criticised for being indecisive in front of goal, Sterling didn’t think twice about trying his luck from the edge of the area.
Southgate bloods more young starlets
It was to be his final act of the night. Sterling left the field to a standing ovation as he was replaced by the second debutant of the night, Callum Hudson-Odoi. The highly rated Chelsea youngster was making his international debut before he’d even started a Premier League game, a testament to how naturally gifted and highly regarded he is.
And it was Hudson-Odoi who had a huge hand in England’s fifth goal. Striding forward with purpose, his well struck effort was palmed away by Jeri Pavlenka, but straight into the path of Tomas Kalas who managed to divert it into his own net. A beautifully slapstick own goal. A comic goal to round off a mature England performance.
It was fantastic win, demonstrating the gulf in class between themselves and the Czech Republic. Raheem Sterling put in an electric performance of skill, composure and sheer quality. This team is only going to mature and get stronger before the European Championships. The road to Wembley has begun.