Jamie Carragher: "I think Raheem Sterling has been England's best player by a long way"; Carragher admits England's progress has surprised him - 'I thought semis would be great achievement' - but is now tipping Gareth Southgate's side to win... on penalties!
Sunday 11 July 2021 20:00, UK
Former England defender Jamie Carragher thinks Raheem Sterling is the leading candidate to be player of Euro 2020 after the forward's exhilarating display in the semi-final win over Denmark.
Having scored three times in England's first four games, Sterling was instrumental in the 4-0 quarter-final defeat of Ukraine last weekend, and gave the Denmark defence problems all night at Wembley on Wednesday, as England won 2-1 after extra-time.
The win put England through to their first major final for 55 years and they will face Italy back at Wembley on Sunday night.
Asked who had impressed him most in the semi-final at Wembley, Carragher told Sky Sports News: "Raheem Sterling.
"I said this after the group games, I think Raheem Sterling has been England's best player by a long way.
"There was a lot of talk going into the competition that his position in the team was up for grabs, which I couldn't understand because he has been outstanding for [manager] Gareth Southgate since the World Cup, over a two or three-year period.
"And especially the way Harry Kane is playing, coming deeper for the ball and trying to get on the ball, you have to have people making runs in behind and having pace in behind.
"I think before this tournament started, the two first names on the team sheet, if everyone was fit, would be Harry Kane and Harry Maguire - but now it has to be Raheem Sterling joining those two.
"Normally the player of the tournament does come from the nation who won the tournament, but not all the time.
"Italy will have a few shouts, the left-back [Leonardo Spinazzola] who is unfortunately not going to play in the final [due to injury] and (Federico) Chiesa has come in and done a great job. The two centre-backs as well.
"It's not just Raheem Sterling in the England team - I think Harry Maguire has had a huge influence since he came back in, Harry Kane is now getting back to what we expect from him in terms of goals and performances.
"But I think Raheem Sterling, at this moment, has it to lose, shall we say."
England had to come from a goal down after Mikkel Damsgaard's free-kick but Carragher believes their triumph after that setback will be character-building.
"When the Denmark goal goes in it creates panic. It was a great goal and the first free-kick we've seen in the tournament, but England were always going to need to go through some adversity, whether it was in the semi-final or the final because it's almost been a perfect progression.
"Either conceding the first goal, having to go to a penalty shootout or even getting a player sent off, there are difficult things you have to overcome if you want to win a tournament or a title or a cup competition.
"Italy have been through it with Spain and also the game against Austria. They were very fortunate with an offside decision as well so you need these things to go for you and I always felt something would happen that England would have to overcome.
"I think that it is a really big hurdle they've overcome and I wasn't too nervous when [the Denmark goal] went in because I just felt England would have to do this either against Denmark or in the final on Sunday.
"You've got to come through tough moments if you want to win things and that was a big one for England.
"How quickly England got the equaliser was important too. If Denmark had got in at half-time with a lead, then worry would have set in."
Carragher admits England's progression to Sunday's showpiece has surprised him.
"It's massive because I didn't think England were capable of getting to the final.
"I thought getting to the semi-finals would be a great achievement for this squad before the tournament, and that was looking at the draw and who we were pitted against in the last-16.
"I thought it was going to be really difficult, whether we faced Germany, France or Portugal, and not since 1966 has an England team not just got the final but beaten a major nation in a knockout game.
"That's what we did against Germany and we'll have to do it again to lift the trophy against Italy."
So who is Carragher tipping?
"I think it will be a very tight game. I think it may go to penalties and England come out victorious.
"We have done a lot of work on penalties, so let's not let that go to waste!
"I don't think there will be too many goals in the game. Italy are very strong defensively, so are England.
"I think it will be 1-1 and then go to penalties.
"I think it's the right final. I think they have been the two most impressive teams in this competition - and winner takes all on Sunday."
Gary Neville hailed an "amazing" atmosphere at Wembley and said that Southgate and his players deserve their shot at history.
"The atmosphere at Wembley was absolutely amazing," Neville told Sky Sports News.
"Gareth Southgate said it was the best atmosphere he's seen at the new Wembley. Obviously, he was at Euro '96 for that Holland game where we beat them 4-1 and it was special against Holland, special against Spain in the quarter-finals, but last night it seemed more special.
"Maybe it was because I was in the crowd and I was up on that second tier. You were in amongst it and also the fact we've had no real fan presence in stadiums for 18 months, it just felt like it was a massive outpouring of emotion.
"It was mesmerising at points in the game and even pre-match. I'm not surprised that in the first half an hour the players were a little frantic and didn't really demonstrate composure in their performance. They were a little bit affected but to be honest, you couldn't not be; the noise around you was just absolutely incredible.
"It's okay to say football players should remove themselves from the atmosphere and the emotion but they had been feeling it for the last two or three days. They've had families and friends ringing them and they've obviously got into the stadium and they are down there by the pitch, and you can just feel it.
"Then, they did settle down after half an hour, but the crowd were an absolute joy and a dream.
"I am absolutely overjoyed and delighted that we won but it actually wasn't the most important thing.
"It's the fact I genuinely trust the manager that we've got. I genuinely think the players are a good bunch of lads who love playing for England, who have removed all the cynicism and cliques that I was part of for many years with England.
"So, credit to them. They deserved what they got because of the way in which they have handled themselves. Not just on the pitch, but off the pitch as well."
Jamie Redknapp says Southgate has been strong enough to make some surprising calls during his tenure - and it has paid off so far.
The pair were team-mates in the England squad who reached the Euro 1996 semi-finals - and Redknapp says even then Southgate was showing some of the traits which have made him such a success as a manager.
"He was always the sensible one in that Euro 96 squad but that wasn't hard, if I'm honest!" said Redknapp.
"He's certainly a thinking man, not necessarily more than anyone else but, let's put it this way, he wasn't in the dentist chair. He was one of the players that stayed behind and was pretty sensible.
"Gareth was a great trainer and a good footballer. He knew his strengths, knew his limitations, but was always a thinking man and that's why he's done so well with this squad.
"He's lucky he's got some really good young players because it doesn't matter how good a manager you are, if you haven't got the tools to work with, you've got no chance, and I think this is a really strong generation of players. There are a lot of good young players that are wanting to learn.
"I think we also have to give a lot of respect and almost a bit of gratitude to the managers that these players are working with.
"A lot of them work every day with Pep Guardiola [at Manchester City], Thomas Tuchel [at Chelsea] and managers that have so much success, so they are learning from some of the best coaches in the world.
"Gareth is reaping the rewards for that and we are lucky we have got this group of players.
"But we've also got a manager who is so calm and sound of mind that he knows what he is doing.
"He's surprised me with how strong he's been with some of the decisions he has made.
"Some of the teams he has picked I'd have never picked them, never, and a lot of football people that know the game inside out would say the same.
"So, you have to say you've got everything right, so far. So, fingers crossed he can do that again in the final."
Drink it in... England are in a major tournament final for the first time since 1966 after their extra-time win over Denmark at Wembley in semi-final of Euro 2020.
Kate Burlaga is joined by Rob Dorsett, Pete Smith and Nick Wright to discuss a historic night, and whether this 'new England' side can go all the way against Italy on Sunday.