On Saturday in Manaus, Raheem Sterling demonstrated why he had been considered a strong candidate to win the Hyundai Young Player Award prior to the start of the tournament. In Brazil following an outstanding season in the Premier League, the fleet-footed attacker began one of the most important matches of his fledgling career to date, against no less a side than Italy.
Any doubters who believed the 19-year-old would wilt under the pressure of the occasion were soon proved wrong. Sterling’s boldness and energy caused frequent problems in a highly-revered Squadra Azzurra defence that breathed a collective sigh of relief when the final whistle sounded.
The match statistics are also telling in this regard: England’s No19 had four shots on goal and made nine solo runs in the attacking third. If he continues in the same vein, England have every opportunity of going a long way in the tournament.
Sterling was not the only fresh-faced youngster to feature for the Three Lions, with Ross Barkley appearing as a 61st minute substitute to try to pull the side level. While he was ultimately unable to achieve that, he made his presence felt and will certainly be given more opportunities to shine.
Unfortunately none of the other candidates for the Hyundai Young Player Award took to the field on Saturday, but they will undoubtedly be ready to showcase their talents if called upon in their teams’ next games.
On Sunday another of the frontrunners to take the prize will be in action, with Paul Pogba set to start for France in a tricky tie against Honduras. He will be joined in the starting line-up by Raphael Varane, who will marshal a back four that could also contain Lucas Digne.
Earlier in the day, Ecuador’s Carlos Gruezo will be determined to make his mark in central midfield against Switzerland in the other match in Group B, while Bosnia and Herzegovina’s full-back Sead Kolasinac will have the unenviable task of keeping Argentina’s Angel di Maria quiet.