England won a friendly 3-0 victory over Ivory Coast at Wembley. Raheem sterling wore the captain’s armband, making a point to Pep Guardiola of Manchester City
Raheem Sterling was timely to remind everyone of it. His importance to England as a goalscorer and leader should not be underestimated.
Incredibly, it was Sterling’s first goal in a friendly which is a weird stat until you remember that means he saves his goals for the big occasions. It was Sterling who was England’s best player at last year’s European Championships and, amid uncertain times at Manchester City, it looks as if something special happens whenever he pulls on the Three Lions shirt.
This time Sterling wore the captain’s armband – yellow and blue in the colours of Ukraine – and he created the first goal for Ollie Watkins as England completely outclassed an Ivory Coast side reduced to 10 men. He scored the second goal himself.
Sterling has been inconsistent in his City team over the past few weeks but it seems like Sterling is a player who grows in stature as he plays for England. This is quite a transformation considering what he was once called. “The Hated One” after a disappointing Euros 2016. Now, he is irreplaceable. He felt almost as if he was urging Pep Guardiola not to leave him out.
When England go to Qatar in seven months’ time, it will be Sterling, Harry Kane and Declan Rice who will be the first names on the team sheet. England should be considering drafting Jude Bellingham in the starting line up, because it was this night that the teenager truly made his international debut.
It’s almost hard to believe Bellingham is only 18, he looks so much older than he is. Southgate should have no doubts about Bellingham after his spectacular display at Wembley. Sterling scored a goal and assisted Bellingham, but the precocious teenager was undoubtedly man-of the-match.
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Southgate claimed that the Bundesliga isn’t as competitive as the Premier League in the build up to the match and that this was what was holding him back. This felt like Bellingham was making a point. This is, after all the Borussia Dortmund player who dominates Champions League matches.
His skill, incredible vision, and turns made him a world champion, no matter which league he played in. The one drag back before the ball hit the post in half-time was breathtaking.
He cannot be this young and so good, so it is best to check his passport. This was England’s last friendly before the World Cup because the next six games are all in the Nations League and, frankly, it became a bit of a farce after Ivory Coast were down to 10 players.
Serge Aurier – Who else? After just 40 minutes, Serge Aurier was sent off for a second Yellow Card. The first yellow card was for a foul and the second for disobedience. He complained about not receiving a free kick, but it seemed a bit excessive considering it was a friendly.
England got a good workout. After half an hour, they took the lead. Sterling worked tirelessly down the left and beat two other men before putting in a low cross that Watkins ate from close range. In the first half of injury time, Sterling scored the second goal.
This time Sterling’s shot was parried by Ivory Coast keeper Badra Ali Sangare, Jack Grealish got the ball back and put it on a plate for Sterling to score. England went through a lot of changes, and England had to wait for injury time to get a third goal. Tyrone Mings’s header from a corner was the final touch.