Having kicked off Group D by beating World Cup semi-final foes Croatia and then been booed off following the goalless draw with rivals Scotland, Gareth Southgate’s already-qualified side put in a controlled display on Tuesday.
Sterling headed home fan favourite Jack Grealish’s cross to seal a narrow win against the Czechs at Wembley, where England will return next Tuesday for a last-16 tie against France, Germany, Portugal or Hungary.
Facing the runners-up in the so-called group of death looks a tough ask but there is a lot to be said for home comforts – plus facing underdogs at the Euros does not always go well, such as Iceland five years ago.
There remains plenty for Southgate’s men to improve on after Tuesday’s hard-fought victory, but England reacted well to a disrupted build-up that saw Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell forced into isolation.
The fallout to their interaction with Scotland’s Billy Gilmour, who tested positive for Covid-19, will rumble on, but Mount’s replacement Grealish impressed – as did fellow tournament full debutant Bukayo Saka.
The fearless pair were involved in the winning goal under the arch, where Sterling bounced back from hitting a post in the opening stages to head home Grealish’s 12th-minute cross.
There were some nervy moments when the Czechs settled and Harry Kane’s wait for his first Euros goal continues, but England professionally saw out a forgettable second half to wrap up qualification without conceding.
And with Harry Maguire back in the line-up and certain to retain his place England look a little bit more assured at the back going into the knock out stages.
Goal hero insisted England must meet the knockout phase head.
The Three Lions will face the runners-up in Group F, likely to be France, Germany or Portugal, but Sterling holds no fear.
“At some point you are going to have to face the best teams, that’s the whole point of being in the tournament which is to challenge yourself,” he said.
“Our objective from the beginning was to win the group. It’s tournament football and things are going to be difficult at times but we need to keep doing what we’re doing as a team which is being solid and taking our chances when we can.”