Raheem Sterling is England's top goalscorer at Euro 2020

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Raheem Sterling has scored three of England’s four goals at Euro 2020 and is one of Gareth Southgate’s most trusted charges. 

Sterling’s strikes broke open tight games against Croatia, Czech Republic and Germany to help set up a quarter-final against Ukraine in Rome on Saturday.

It has not always been plain sailing for Sterling an England shirt, though. Sam Wallace charts the trajectory of his international career through eight key matches. 

Sweden 4-2 England, 14 Nov 2012, Stockholm (Friendly)

Raheem Sterling’s debut at the age of 17 years and 342 days, just seven months and 13 Premier League appearances after his senior club debut with Liverpool. He played 85 minutes although it was not for the birth of his international career that the game was remembered. That was the four goals inflicted on England by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. As far as England went this game was a mess, following a lacklustre start to World Cup qualification, which had been preceded by the forgettable Euro 2012. Roy Hodgson gave six debuts, including Wilfried Zaha who replaced Sterling. For the teenage Sterling it was a taste of the volatility of the international game. He went back to the Under-21s for a period and was a non-playing member of the senior squad on other occasions. He did not win another senior cap for 18 months, in time to break into the team for the 2014 World Cup.

Sterling on his England debut in Stockholm

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England 1-1 Russia, Marseille, June 11, 2016 (Euro 2016)

Violence on the streets of Marseille, and rage online. Sterling was targeted on social media for his part in this insipid opener to Euro 2016. He responded by referring to himself as #TheHatedOne on Instagram. The previous summer he had been booed by home fans in a friendly against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin – assumed to be a reaction to his £50 million move from Liverpool to Manchester City. Sterling could see an uncomfortable subtext to the criticism of a young black man being singled out for abuse and would later take a much more outspoken stand. These were painful moments for the young Sterling but he came through and was by now established as a regular starter in two tournaments for England. The era of Steven Gerrard and latterly Wayne Rooney was coming to an end, and a new generation would replace them.  

Sterling during England's draw with Russia at Euro 2016

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Malta 0-4 England, Sept 1, 2017, Attard (World Cup 2018 qualifier)

With the England team now under Gareth Southgate, who would prove to be a great advocate of Sterling, the player is substituted at half-time with the hostility towards him still a concern. Reflecting later on this game Southgate sees it as a turning point. “He [Raheem] has shown tremendous resilience throughout the time I’ve been England manager,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s not been a straightforward path for Raheem, there was a game in Malta where I took him off at half-time, the crowd were on his back.” At City that same month the goals start to flow for Sterling which help contribute to the changing perceptions of him as a goalscorer rather than a winger.

Southgate consoles Sterling after the match at Malta

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Croatia 2-1 England, June 11, 2018, Moscow (World Cup 2018 semi-final)

Sterling at his third tournament has become a mainstay of the Southgate England team. A Premier League winner for the first time with Pep Guardiola’s new-look City that summer, he scored 23 in 46 club games in all competitions in 2017-2018. The goals, for England, however, will not come. Croatia is his 43rd cap and he had scored just two for England up until that point. In the first half, with England one goal up, Harry Kane is through on goal with just Danijel Subasic to beat. Sterling is free in the centre. Kane shoots instead of passing. Was that a turning point on Sterling’s attitude towards goalscoring and taking his chances? Since then he has hit 15 goals for England and his greatest moment is not long to come after England’s 2018 World Cup elimination.

Sterling during the 2018 World Cup semi-final

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Spain 2-3 England, Oct 15, 2018, Seville (Nations League)

One of the greatest nights of Southgate’s reign and Sterling is a revelation. For the first time in his England career he scores more than once in a game, and against one of the greatest football nations of the era. Spain cannot handle the pace of Sterling and Marcus Rashford on the counterattack and Sterling’s finishing is more assured than ever. This is the game that shapes Southgate’s attitude towards the style of play he wants to adopt and the players he wants to do it. Sterling starts as a No 10 but what is notable is that it is he who is the focus. Rashford assists his first goal and Kane his second. The notion of Sterling the goalscorer instead of Sterling the provider begins to take shape.

Sterling celebrates scoring against Spain in Seville

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England 5-0 Czech Republic, March 22 2019, Wembley (Euro 2020 qualifier)

Five months on from Seville, his first hat-trick for England scored less than a mile from his childhood home on the St Raphael’s estate in Stonebridge. While a major player in the Premier League and an England international for more than six years this feels like the moment when Sterling is truly appreciated in the stadium he calls home. He would watch as a child as Wembley was being bulldozed and then rebuilt. He leaves the game with 20 minutes left to a standing ovation from the home crowd. Southgate describes his performance as “devastating”. He also wins the penalty that Kane tucks away for the game’s second goal. Another Premier League title is on its way with City and the road forward looks clear at last.

Sterling on his way to a Wembley hat-trick against Czech Republic

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Kosovo 0-4 England, Nov 17, 2019, Pristina (Euro 2020 qualifier)

Less for the game itself and more about the return of Sterling after arguably the most difficult moment of the Southgate years. Days early Sterling had confronted the Liverpool defender Joe Gomez in the canteen at St George’s Park over a grievance that began when the two faced each other at Anfield the previous weekend. Sterling is regarded as the aggressor and, for a day, confusion surrounds the incident. Did Sterling leave the England camp and have to be recalled? Southgate suspends him from selection for the next qualifier against Montenegro. Gomez agrees to forgive his team-mate, but the episode is a huge worry for the manager and his staff. They had given Sterling the captaincy for the Nations League semi-final game against the Netherlands three months earlier. That sort of volatility goes against the calm, united spirit Southgate is trying to build. But he has a strong bond with Sterling and wants to rehabilitate him swiftly.

Sterling in action against Kosovo

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England 1-0 Croatia, June 13, 2021, Wembley (Euro 2020)

Sterling comes into the tournament having his club place in City’s team for the latter stages of their title push and after a poor performance in the Champions League final defeat. He missed six England games at the end of 2020 after the return of international football and eight of the last 11 internationals. Straight into Southgate’s team for the critical opener against Croatia he scores the only goal of the game with a classic run in behind the opposition defence to reach Kalvin Phillips’ pass. It is a brave finish too as Sterling is sent spinning after the contact. The goal is a key moment for England. They take seven points from the first stage with another winner for Sterling against the Czech Republic. Then against Germany in the last-16 knockout round he scores again. This is turning into his tournament in his home stadium of Wembley and the young man from north-west London is now a 65-cap senior international, the most experienced player in the squad and one of the tournament’s standout stars.