England have not been spectacular but solid; at the heart of their progression to the round of 16 is Raheem Sterling, and coach Gareth Southgate will count on the Man City winger to step to the plate once again when they face G ermany in their first knockout stage tie on Saturday. England scored just two goals in the preliminary stage but still managed to top the group with seven points with Sterling scoring in both 1-0 wins over Croatia and the Czech Republic. It is hard to fathom why English fans are yet to embrace Sterling despite being one of their best performers in recent years. Although sometimes erratic, there is no doubting the quality the former Liverpool winger possesses.
He suffered much criticism at Man City as he has had with the Three Lions but a critical look at his contribution for both teams shows that he has been spectacular. Even when Harry Kane has been out of sorts in this tournament, Sterling has been the go-to guy for Southgate’s men. For a guy that has scored impressive 14 goals in his last 19 appearances for England even when he is not the main striker, he deserves more than the plaudits that currently follow him. Even in the season, some of his critics claimed he didn’t do quite well, Sterling scored whopping 14 goals in all competitions, 10 of them in the English Premier League.
Ilkay Gundogan (13) was his teammate with a higher number of goals. He contributed the second-highest number of goals as City strolled to the EPL title and people still criticised him. Across a six-year spell at the Etihad Stadium, the 26-year-old forward has collected nine winners’ medals – three EPL titles, including four Carabao Cup triumphs and an FA Cup win.
He’s got the experience and the winning mentality England need at this stage. He has taken that form to the national team after hitting two goals, and Southgate is quite happy with his contributions so far. “Over the last couple of years Raheem has transferred his club goalscoring form into the matches with us,” Southgate said. “When you can get wide players scoring in that way then that’s a huge lift.” Sterling, a multiple Premier League champion, has consistently shown that he belongs at the highest level.
There is a hierarchy in England’s attack for a good reason and Germany’s shaky defence will not relish marking Sterling in the last 16 on Tuesday. Joachim Löw’s side would be foolish to leave space for the forward to run in behind, and it is time for his detractors to show him similar respect.