England boss Gareth Southgate explains why he started Raheem Sterling
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The 26-year-old scored just three goals in his final 20 games for club and country last season but justified the faith shown by his manager by scoring the game’s only goal after 57 minutes – his first at a major tournament.
Sterling was slipped in by Kalvin Phillips and he coolly fired a first-time effort in from 12 yards.
Southgate told the BBC: “Raheem has had this hex in the tournaments and not being able to get the goal, I felt he was dangerous all day, right from the start he was a thorn in their side. I’m really pleased for all of them.
“He is a good player, his goal-scoring record suggests we should have faith with him, especially in the last few years.
“We know we’re going to need that depth. We’re going to need all those attacking players and there were a couple who didn’t get on today.
“We will need those guys through the tournament.”
Sterling added: “There are a lot of different reasons I haven’t scored for my club and that’s totally irrelevant now. I’m here with England I’m enjoying my football and that’s the most important thing and I’m just happy to score.”
Former Sheffield United defender Kyle Walker played the full match as England kept Croatia at bay, while ex-Blades striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin came off the bench late on to help the Three Lions see the game out.
Harry Maguire, who is still recovering from ankle ligament damage, was left out of the 23-man match day squad.