England prove that Russia 2018 was no flash in the pan

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Gareth Southgate’s England will return from Podgorica buoyed with confidence after brushing aside both the Czech Republic, and Montenegro with an aggregate score line of 10-1.

England swept away the Czech’s with ease

Southgate’s men built further on the enormous progress made at last year’s World Cup, successfully integrating youngsters Jadon Sancho, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Declan Rice into the setup as optimism for Euro 2020 builds already.

England swept away the Czechs with ease and despite an early scare in Montenegro, courtesy of a Marko Vesovic strike, their opponents were dispatched in a similarly convincing style. Yet the latter triumph in Podgorica hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons as it was tragically overshadowed by racist abuse targeted at some of Southgate’s players.

Despite clear distractions off the pitch, England was sublime on it. Against the Czech Republic at Wembley, Raheem Sterling was undoubtedly the star man, becoming the first Englishman since Stanley Matthews in 1937 to take home the match ball against their Eastern European opponents.

England have built further on their Russian success story and with five goals or more in back to back games for the first time since 1984

It was a performance we have seen so many times in the sky blue of Manchester City, but rarely in the white of England with Sterling really stepping up a level to show he can perform on the international stage. The shining diamond out of his trio of goals was undoubtedly his first, the culmination of a twenty-five pass move in which all but one England players touched the ball, simply a joy for the 83,000 in Wembley to watch.

The front three of Sancho, Kane and Sterling is enough to strike fear into any international defence and they proved this at Wembley. Yet the substitution of Chelsea wonder-kid Callum Hudson-Odoi in the second half gave Southgate further food for thought in terms of his attacking options as the unnerved eighteen-year-old’s darting run led to a comical own goal via his Chelsea compatriot, Tomas Kalas, for England’s fifth.

England certainly didn’t slow up when they arrived in Montenegro three days later. A seventeenth-minute goal by the worlds forty-sixth best footballing side did not phase this new, post-Russia, confident and resilient England.

With qualification already almost assured, England fans once again have a feel-good atmosphere which has not emanated from this island since the Bobby Robson era

They responded in style and were ahead, courtesy of Michael Keane and Ross Barkley goals, not even twenty minutes after conceding; meaning they went into the break 2-1 up. Southgate entrusted teenagers Hudson-Odoi and Declan Rice with their first starts and they rewarded him with fine performances as Hudson-Odoi grabbed an assist for the first of Barkley’s brace.

Harry Kane brought his England tally to 22, level with Peter Crouch, and the once-again outstanding Sterling, topped off his performance with England’s fifth, ten minutes from time.

Yet rather disgustingly, it was actions off the pitch that hit the headlines. Hudon-Odoi had a cigarette lighter thrown at him whilst he, Rose and Sterling were subjected to monkey chanting for the entirety of the ninety minutes in a tirade of racist abuse that was frankly horrible to see.

Whilst Montenegro’s boss, Ljubisa Tumbakovic claimed he was completely unaware of the persistent racist chanting, Southgate stood up and lambasted the actions of the crowd in the Podgorica City Stadium. Yet just like matters on the pitch, matters off it were dealt with professionalism and class by the players involved. Sterling simply put his hands over his ears as he scored England’s final goal, and later commented on Instagram that scoring is the ‘best way to silence the haters.’

This side of the game once again reared its ugly head and with the incident having been reported to UEFA, it is hoped that suitably harsh punishment will be dished out to Tumbakovic’s side.

Despite this, England have started their Euro 2020 campaign in the finest way possible; with six points and ten goals some fans may already be dreaming of that elusive final in Wembley in just under a year and a half’s time.

England have built further on their Russian success story and with five goals or more in back to back games for the first time since 1984 they already sit four points above second place Bulgaria in Group A.

With qualification already almost assured, England fans once again have a feel-good atmosphere which has not emanated from this island since the Bobby Robson era. Southgate’s men are being revered across the nation and the start of Euro 2020 cannot come quick enough.

Photograph: Anton Zaytsev via Wikimedia Commons

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