- Raheem Sterling's hat-trick guided England to 5-0 win over Czech Republic
- Manchester City man's first treble for his country
- Forward emerging as England's key man
It has been a long time coming, but it now seems that Raheem Sterling - with his latest stunning showing for England - has converted the vast majority of his nation's fans from doubters to devotees.
Sterling's three goals against the Czech Republic in the Three Lions' impressive 5-0 victory saw Gareth Southgate's side start the UEFA EURO 2020 qualifiers with a bang, and put them among the early favourites to reach the latter stages of next year's finals. That will of course be the dream of every player involved in the England set-up, with the added incentive that both semi-finals and the finale of next year's continental showpiece will take place at the home of English football: Wembley Stadium.
It was on that fabled turf that Sterling put in another superlative England performance on Friday and, after his three-goal showing, FIFA.com runs the rule over three factors in Sterling's ascension from promising youngster to England's talisman.
Becoming a leader
"I’ve put him into the leadership group that we have. I think he’s a role model for the younger players coming in. He’s really focused on his training and his preparation, and I think he’s enjoyed that extra responsibility as well. We can’t hide from the fact that he’s had difficult moments with England and he’s turned that full circle."
These words from England coach Gareth Southgate after Sterling's three-goal showing against the Czechs sum up the new, senior role that the Manchester City man has in the Three Lions set-up. The forward may only be 24 years old, but has already been in the senior set-up for almost seven years, after making his debut as a 17-year-old back in 2012.
The fact that he started alongside one teenager (Jadon Sancho) and was substituted for another (Callum Hudson-Odoi) is another clear indication of Sterling's seniority in this youthful England squad.
Maintaining the movement
10 attempts on goal
1 attempt on target
0 goals scored
At a glance, Sterling's 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ statistics do not make pleasant reading. But if you were to watch England during the finals, it became clear very quickly that Sterling was one of England's most important players - vital to the way the Three Lions set up their game plan in every match.
Sterling's movement, dropping into space, pulling backlines out of position and occupying defenders who often doubled up on the Manchester City man allowed Harry Kane much more space in and around opposition penalty areas. The result? Kane took home the adidas Golden Boot as England marched unexpectedly to the semi-finals. However, Sterling's 'under the radar' movement and work ethic certainly played its part - and his positional play continues to cause headaches for opposition defences.
Breaking the drought
27.03.15 - First England goal v Lithuania
09.10.15 - Scores v Estonia
15.10.18 - Scores twice v Spain
22.03.19 - Scores hat-trick v Czech Republic
Persistently working hard on that movement and positional play has seen Sterling reap the rewards post-Russia by finding the net. Sterling ended a three-year, 27-game barren spell in an England shirt against Spain, by scoring the opener in an emphatic 3-0 UEFA Nations League victory in Seville in October.
He did not have to wait long for his next strike, scoring 22 minutes later in the same game. After his treble against the Czech Republic, he has now scored five goals in five months for Southgate's side, having scored just twice in the almost six years between his debut and that double against La Roja.