Raheem Sterling showed that he is coming of age on the international stage as his hat-trick saw England start their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by hammering the Czech Republic 5-0 while Antoine Griezmann inspired France to a battering of Moldova and Ukraine snuffed out Portugal on Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to international football, defending stoutly as they held the European champions to a goalless draw in their opening Euro 2020 Group B qualifier.
Manchester City attacker Sterling had scored just two goals in his first 45 caps, but he now has five in his last three international appearances following Friday’s treble, which helped England storm to the top of Group A ahead of Monday’s trip to Montenegro, who drew 1-1 at Bulgaria.Sterling opened the scoring in the 24th minute when he tapped home Jadon Sancho’s cross, and struck twice more in the second half to put the result beyond doubt after Harry Kane fired home his 21st England goal from the penalty spot.
“It was a beautiful team performance and I was happy to help the team get the win,” Sterling said.
Sterling has 24 goals for club and country this term and his impressive form is a fry cry from the dark days when he was vilified as England crashed out of Euro 2016.
France also got off to a perfect start after an older head in Antoine Griezmann spurred the world champions on to a comfortable 4-1 victory at Moldova.
Griezmann opened the scoring with his 27th France goal in the 24th minute of their Group H encounter before crossing for Raphael Varane to double the scores three minutes later.
Olivier Giroud equalled David Trezeguet as Les Bleus’ third highest scorer of all time with his 34th international goal nine minutes before the break and Kylian Mbappe completed the rout with three minutes left, before Vladimir Ambros claimed a late consolation for Moldova.“We played a very consummate first half in terms of control and attacking organisation. The second half was less fulfilling due to substitutions,” said coach Didier Deschamps.
The draw was the first time Portuguese side have failed to score at home in 19 matches and leaves them second in the group behind Luxembourg, who beat Lithuania 2-1.
“We didn’t play as we wanted to. We started slowly, not pressing the way we wanted,” said Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva.
“The second half we tried to create chances to go after the game but unfortunately we didn’t score.”
Portugal take on Serbia, who are yet to play in the five-man group, in Lisbon on Monday, while Ukraine travel to group leaders Luxembourg.