England manager Gareth Southgate saluted “electric” Raheem Sterling after he inspired Friday’s 5-0 hammering of the Czech Republic with a hat-trick.
The Three Lions were playing their first game since November, when they secured a place at the Nations League Finals, and they picked up where they left off.
Sterling was pivotal, opening the scoring at the end of a free-flowing move, before adding two more goals in the second half at Wembley.
Harry Kane’s first-half penalty – which was won by Sterling – and a late Tomas Kalas own goal also contributed, but it was all about the Manchester City star as England began Euro 2020 qualifying in ominous fashion.
Southgate was suitably impressed and put Sterling’s improvement in front of goal for England down to acting on instinct.
3 – Raheem Sterling is the first England player to score a hat-trick at Wembley since Jermain Defoe in September 2010 (v Bulgaria), netting with each of his three shots in the game. Clinical. pic.twitter.com/GXHacyHpck
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 22, 2019
“Brilliant, I thought he was electric all game,” Southgate told ITV when asked to evaluate Sterling’s display.
“He’s looked that way all week in training. [He was] involved in four of the goals and I’m really pleased for him, a really special night for him.
“I just think he’s really matured as a person and footballer and he’s hungry for those goals now.
“He’s determined to get into the right areas on the pitch, and the quality of his finishing; he’s hitting things instinctively, not thinking too much.”
Sterling, who only had four international goals to his name going into the match, had a similar observation, though he also highlighted self-belief.
When asked what he felt had changed for him in an England shirt, Sterling said: “Being confident in myself, being there, trying to get in [goal-scoring] areas, taking shots and not worrying about anything, just going with it. That’s it.”
England are in qualifying action again on Monday, when they are hosted by Montenegro in Podgorica.