Gareth Southgate has saluted Raheem Sterling as a "role model" after his first England hat-trick helped seal an emphatic 5-0 victory over the Czech Republic at Wembley.
Sterling had a hand in four of England's five-goal haul, breaking the deadlock midway through the first half at the end of a 25-pass move, winning the penalty which Harry Kane converted before two strikes early in the second half completed his treble and a special night for the Manchester City forward.
"I put Raheem into the leadership group that we have, he is showing those signs," England manager Southgate told his post-match press conference.
"He is a role model for the younger players coming in; he's really focused on his training and preparation and I think he's enjoyed that extra responsibility. It was a really special night for him.
"[Tonight] I saw what I've seen all week from Raheem, so it didn't surprise me. He's in a really confident moment on and off the field. He's so mature and comfortable in himself.
"I'm so delighted he got the reaction he did from the crowd because we can't hide from the fact he's had difficult moments with England. He's turned that full circle.
"His finishes tonight are ones he took on without thinking too much. You could almost see the thought process in the past but now he's hungry for those goals, he's added that incentive to his game and I thought he was devastating today."
Sterling wasn't the only England player to catch the eye against the Czechs.
⚽️⚽️ ⚽️@sterling7 scores the 2nd hat-trick of Gareth Southgate's reign and 1st since Harry Kane v Panama in June 2018— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) March 22, 2019
It is the first Wembley hat-trick for an @England player since @IAmJermainDefoe v Bulgaria in Sept 2010 pic.twitter.com/xpVinKvOxS
Jadon Sancho marked his first competitive start for his country with a scintillating attacking display, which included an assist for Sterling's opener, while debutant Callum Hudson-Odoi forced a late own goal after his fierce shot cannoned in off Tomas Kalas.
Sancho's extraordinary rise continues
Sterling was the hat-trick hero but it was also another night of progress for Jadon Sancho. Read Nick Wright's feature here...
England: Pickford (7), Walker (7), Keane (7), Maguire (7), Chilwell (7), Henderson (7), Dier (6), Sancho (9), Alli (7), Sterling (9), Kane (8).
Subs: Rice (6), Barkley (7), Hudson-Odoi (7).
Czech Republic: Pavlenka (5), Kaderabek (5), Celustka (5), Kalas (4), Novak (4), Soucek (6), Pavelka (5), Gebre Selassie (5), Darida (5), Janko (5), Schick (5).
Subs: Masopust (5), Vydra (5), Skoda (n/a).
Man of the Match: Raheem Sterling
"We were a little slow at the start coming to the ball and there was a period at the beginning of the second half where we lost a bit of tactical discipline and conceded chances that on another night would have been punished," Southgate added.
"That aside, I really liked the way we won the ball back quickly, and our use of the ball was very good. Some of our attacking play and forward runs were really exciting.
"I'm nit-picking but I think we can get better, we have to keep doing that because these guys have got potential to play at an even higher level than they did tonight."
Dier to miss Montenegro qualifier
Eric Dier has been ruled out of England's European Qualifier against Montenegro with a muscular injury picked up against the Czech Republic.
Gareth Southgate’s side face Montenegro on Monday evening and the England manager confirmed he expected Dier, who was substituted after 16 minutes, to leave the national team's squad and return to his club side.
He told Sky Sports News: "I think he will go back to his club. Hopefully not to serious, bit of a muscular injury but he won't be right for our second game."
Sterling: I knew the moments would come
"I said to myself coming into this campaign that it's about replicating my club form. I had full confidence in myself. I've kept working and I've kept being positive.
"I knew the moments would come, and I knew I just needed to carry that on. I'm just happy that I can be more confident in the shirt, wearing the shirt with pride and with no fear. The hat-trick was a bonus for me."
"He is incredible. He is a great a player and so humble as well. He just wants to work hard and get better.
"You have seen him full of confidence out there today. Great first goal - getting in the six-yard box. That's where most of the goals are scored so he has learned that over the past two-three years now playing for club and country.
"It's great to have him in this form, it's great to play with him and hopefully he can do it again on Monday."
"He had a fantastic season last season, but people still criticised him at the end of that and the World Cup that he didn't do enough.
"But he's got a few things off his chest and he looks refreshed and full of confidence. His goal against Spain really set him up, he didn't really think too much about it, it was instinctive and people thought 'ooh, OK'.
"Today he was brilliant again, not just his goals but his general play, he was involved in everything good England did going forward, linked up really well with Kane and Sancho, and Southgate has a nice headache to have."
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