England's big win in Hungary was even more remarkable because of the racist abuse directed at their players, according to Kick It Out head of development Troy Townsend.

A 4-0 World Cup qualifying success on Thursday was overshadowed by reports of monkey chanting in Budapest.

On Friday, Townsend hailed Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate and the "support system" around 18-year-old Jude Bellingham, one of the apparent victims. Bellingham said on Twitter the abuse was "part of the game and always will be until proper punishments are put in place by those with the power".

This sort of response has prompted widespread praise as England players have time and again taken a stand against discrimination. FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against Hungary, after receiving official reports of events at the Puskas Arena.

Townsend suggested racist chanting was "what we've come to expect" and the team would have thought likewise heading into Thursday's match, but he was again enthused by the players' reactions.

Raheem Sterling was surrounded by his team-mates as he celebrated the opening goal with a tribute to his late friend Steffie Gregg.

Objects were thrown at Sterling by a number of Hungary supporters, but England players including Declan Rice and Jack Grealish appeared to mock their actions by drinking from cups that landed at pitchside.

"In general, they dealt with it with class," Townsend told Stats Perform.

"Every goal, there's more meaning to it, isn't there? You see the ball go in the back of the net and you think, 'I'm disappointed with four'. I'm like, 'Oh, go and get five, go and get six'.

 

"But those players, I can't say this enough now about players who have been victimised and the support that they have of their team-mates.

"I would imagine that there will be certain elements of that squad last night that were expecting it.

"And when they targeted Raheem, who lost a close friend and that's what the inscription on his T-shirt was about, to his close friend... he's in a moment where he's paying homage to a friend, while having cups thrown at him and potentially hearing the monkey chants as well, this is what I mean about that mindset of our professionals.

"Now, they've got such a strong and positive mindset that they won't let those situations affect them.

"They know what they've got to do on the football pitch. They know what they want to achieve. And by the way, they know they're bloody good, and they're better than the opposition.

"So, actually, it makes them more determined, more steely to go and do it again, and go and do it again and go and do it again.

"And I would imagine that they would have walked off with a smile on their face while also going, 'Did you hear that? Did you hear that?'."

FIFA has vowed to take "adequate actions" after England players were allegedly racially abused by Hungary fans during a World Cup qualifying win on Thursday.

Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham were allegedly subjected to abuse as the Three Lions cruised to a 4-0 Group I victory at the Puskas Arena.

Hungary were ordered to play their next two UEFA competition matches behind closed doors following an investigation into discriminatory behaviour by supporters at Euro 2020.

World governing body FIFA on Friday vowed to act once it receives reports from match officials and delegates who attended the match in Budapest.

"First and foremost, FIFA strongly rejects any form of racism and violence and has a very clear zero tolerance stance for such behaviour in football," a FIFA statement said.

"FIFA will take adequate actions as soon as it receives match reports concerning yesterday's Hungary-England game.

"With regards to the previous UEFA sanction against Hungary, please note that as specified by UEFA at the time, this sanction is to be served in UEFA competitions."

England boss Gareth Southgate said he had not heard the abuse.

He added: "It sounds like there have been some incidents and everybody knows what we stand for as a team and that that's completely unacceptable."

Three Lions captain Harry Kane also stated that he had not heard the alleged racist chants.

The Tottenham striker said: "I didn't hear that. Obviously, that's something I'll talk to the boys [about] and see if any of them heard any of it.

"We'll have to report it to UEFA as the rules permit and if it is the case hopefully UEFA can come down strong."

England claimed a comprehensive 4-0 victory in Hungary in their first match since the Euro 2020 final, taking a giant stride towards 2022 World Cup qualification.

Goals from Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, Harry Maguire and Declan Rice gave the Three Lions a fourth win in four in this campaign as they aim to move on from July's Wembley heartbreak against Italy.

An England side showing only one change from that penalty shoot-out defeat – Jack Grealish in for Kieran Trippier – dictated play in Budapest, but had to bide their time.

Sterling took his chance early in the second half, though, and Gareth Southgate's men were comfortable thereafter, the outing only marred by objects thrown from the home supporters during England's celebrations as they moved five points clear at the top of Group I.

England had waited until the 50th minute for their first clear-cut opportunity, which Kane then uncharacteristically squandered, scuffing his finish and allowing Peter Gulacsi to block after an incisive Kyle Walker pass.

But the visitors soon carved Hungary open again and Sterling was less forgiving, steering into the bottom-right corner from Mason Mount's cutback.

And there was no way back for Hungary when Mount and Sterling combined again and the latter's driven cross deflected off Attila Szalai onto the head of Kane, who this time did not disappoint.

Gulacsi was able to deny Kane again as Grealish led a counter on the left, but the goalkeeper was less impressive moments later as Maguire's header squirmed into the net, further rewarding a patient first-half display.

A bizarre display from Gulacsi was complete when he recovered a tame Sterling finish after the forward had set up an open goal and then blocked once more from the profligate Kane, only to let Rice's straightforward shot beneath him.

A Manchester United great, could Cristiano Ronaldo end up in the blue of the Red Devils' neighbours?

Ronaldo is reportedly set to leave Serie A powerhouse Juventus and a move to Manchester City is on the cards.

United fans will not be happy…

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO TO JOIN CITY AFTER JUVE FAREWELL

Cristiano Ronaldo will leave Juventus for Manchester City, according to Portuguese journalist Goncalo Lopes.

Ronaldo – who is in the final year of his Juve contract – has been eyeing a Turin exit amid links with Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Lopes claims a sensational move that will see United great Ronaldo play for neighbours City is a "done deal", while Gianluca Di Marzio says the five-time Ballon d'Or winner will farewell his team-mates on Friday.

 

ROUND-UP

Kylian Mbappe is on the verge of moving to Madrid in a blockbuster transfer from PSG. The France international dominates the front page of Friday's L'Equipe, with the headline "Mbappe is at Real Madrid's door". The same outlet claims Madrid are desperate to claim a deal now before he becomes a free agent as they fear competition from the Premier League, where United and Liverpool are believed to be interested.

- If Mbappe does leave, L'Equipe states that PSG will target Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland, United midfielder Paul Pogba and Rennes teenager Eduardo Camavinga.

- ESPN Brazil says PSG are trying to sign Brazil international Richarlison from Everton.

- Fabrizio Romano reports Raheem Sterling could leave City if the right bid arrives as Bernardo Silva also continues to be linked with a move away amid interest from Atletico Madrid and Milan.

Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Milan are interested in United full-back Diogo Dalot, according to Sky.

- Per The Athletic, there is caution a deal that would see Saul Niguez leave Atletico for United could happen. Chelsea are also reportedly in talks.

A Manchester United great, could Cristiano Ronaldo end up in the blue of the Red Devils' neighbours?

Ronaldo is reportedly set to leave Serie A powerhouse Juventus and a move to Manchester City is on the cards.

United fans will not be happy…

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO TO JOIN CITY AFTER JUVE FAREWELL

Cristiano Ronaldo will leave Juventus for Manchester City, according to Portuguese journalist Goncalo Lopes.

Ronaldo – who is in the final year of his Juve contract – has been eyeing a Turin exit amid links with Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Lopes claims a sensational move that will see United great Ronaldo play for neighbours City is a "done deal", while Gianluca Di Marzio says the five-time Ballon d'Or winner will farewell his team-mates on Friday.

 

ROUND-UP

Kylian Mbappe is on the verge of moving to Madrid in a blockbuster transfer from PSG. The France international dominates the front page of Friday's L'Equipe, with the headline "Mbappe is at Real Madrid's door". The same outlet claims Madrid are desperate to claim a deal now before he becomes a free agent as they fear competition from the Premier League, where United and Liverpool are believed to be interested.

- If Mbappe does leave, L'Equipe states that PSG will target Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland, United midfielder Paul Pogba and Rennes teenager Eduardo Camavinga.

- ESPN Brazil says PSG are trying to sign Brazil international Richarlison from Everton.

- Fabrizio Romano reports Raheem Sterling could leave City if the right bid arrives as Bernardo Silva also continues to be linked with a move away amid interest from Atletico Madrid and Milan.

Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Milan are interested in United full-back Diogo Dalot, according to Sky.

- Per The Athletic, there is caution a deal that would see Saul Niguez leave Atletico for United could happen. Chelsea are also reportedly in talks.

Jack Grealish was among the scorers as Manchester City eased past Norwich City 5-0 on Saturday for their first win of the Premier League season.

The reigning champions fell to a 1-0 loss at Tottenham in their opening game but had no trouble in seeing off their newly promoted opponents at the Etihad Stadium.

British record signing Grealish scored in an unconventional manner 22 minutes into his home debut after Tim Krul's unfortunate own goal had given the hosts an early lead.

Aymeric Laporte added to the scoring in the second half and substitutes Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez piled the misery on Norwich, who slipped to a second successive defeat on their return to the top tier.

City had won their previous three home league games against Norwich by an aggregate score of 14-1 and were ahead inside seven minutes of this latest one-sided encounter.

Gabriel Jesus chested down Rodri's diagonal pass and fired a low cross into the six-yard box, Grant Hanley diverting the ball against goalkeeper Krul and into the net.

Ferran Torres was denied a goal by VAR for Bernardo Silva's trip on Milot Rashica in the build-up, but Grealish netted soon after as Jesus' cross hit his thigh and beat Krul.

Having played a part in those opening two goals, Jesus went close to scoring one of his own early in the second half when dragging a shot just wide from range.

City's third did arrive nine minutes later when Laporte stroked home after Norwich failed to deal with a corner and the ball bounced around in the box.

Sterling was next to register with a close-range finish after being teed up by the impressive Jesus, while Mahrez rounded out the scoring late on, brilliantly controlling Ruben Dias' long pass and tucking in off the inside of the post.

Following the Super League debacle earlier this year, it doesn't take much for owners and chairmen at Europe's major football clubs to give off the air of scheming supervillains.

Still, Spurs chief Daniel Levy chuckling away to himself before kick-off amid no other visible amusement in the directors box felt a little on the nose.

Perhaps he was pondering a best-case scenario in the current context of his own club, visitors Manchester City and Sunday afternoon's absent superstar.

On their three previous visits to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the reigning Premier League champions had been beaten without scoring a goal. In each of those games, City's expected goals (xG) figure, as per Opta, was superior to their hosts, including a comedic 0.3-2.9 when Jose Mourinho's Spurs won 2-0 in February 2020.

It was the same story here as Tottenham won 1-0 with their first shot on target from Son Heung-min, although few could begrudge Nuno Espirito Santo this stirring start in his new job.

As they did for much of last season, City lined up without a specialist centre-forward in their XI. Fernandinho and Joao Cancelo spurned glorious openings within the opening five minutes as the fledgling link-up between Raheem Sterling and £100million man Jack Grealish on the left laid the foundations for early domination by Pep Guardiola's side.

Riyad Mahrez shanked off target from 10 yards in the 35th minute but, by that stage, Spurs had a foothold in the contest. Indeed, had it not been from some unusual hesitation from Son on the break, they might have led.

Harry Kane, Son's usual partner in crime, would have prayed on those opportunities but was out of Nuno's matchday 18 on account of lacking fitness, City's widely reported interest or most likely some combination of those factors.

Ferran Torres, leading the City attack, managed nine first-half touches and only two of those were on the fringe of the Spurs box. When the early momentum that saw the away team hog 79 per cent of possession in the first 15 minutes waned, they lacked a presence and a focal point to help them wrest it back.

Half-time did not settle Guardiola's men and they resumed in ragged fashion, increasingly ill-suited to a game being played in transition.

Steve Bergwijn sprung in behind Fernandinho, who looked every one of his 36 years here, and fed Son. If City seldom score in this fixture, the Korean star always does. He whipped in a left-footed shot that beat an unsighted Ederson for his seventh goal against these opponents.

Mahrez and Cancelo each delivered dangerous crosses to nobody in particular but City were dealing in what Guardiola referred to as "incredible almost chances" after their Champions League final loss to Chelsea. At least until Torres added another howler to their north London catalogue after a well-worked 70th-minute free-kick.

Often free-scoring during Guardiola's trophy-laden tenure, this was a third 1-0 loss for City after their reverse to Chelsea in Porto and last week's Community Shield defeat to Leicester City.

The most damning aspect was how inevitable this meek surrender felt after Son scored, on a weekend when Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool all won comprehensively. That trio of title contenders will have enjoyed what they saw, although an eye-catching substitute cameo from a half-fit Kevin De Bruyne means it is not a time to draw too many conclusions beyond a gaping hole at centre-forward.

City's area of need is obvious after an afternoon of sweet success to savour for Spurs. Whether he enters negotiations or opts to divert all calls from Manchester, Levy can certainly afford to cackle his way through next week.

Pep Guardiola will take the mental health of his international stars into consideration as Manchester City prepare for a quick turnaround into the new season.

The Premier League champions went down to a 1-0 Community Shield defeat against Leicester City on Saturday, their former striker Kelechi Iheanacho coming off the bench to win and convert a late penalty at Wembley.

Guardiola remained without Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Ederson and Gabriel Jesus after their respective runs to the finals of Euro 2020 and the Copa America with England and Brazil.

The sextet will return to training on Monday, while Kevin De Bruyne is still on the mend after an ankle injury sustained during Belgium's progress to the quarter-finals of the European Championship.

Aymeric Laporte – a Euros semi-finalist with Spain – must self-isolate until the middle of next week because a passenger on his flight back to the United Kingdom after a vacation tested positive for COVID-19. The defender has tested negative.

It adds up to a far-from-ideal preparation for next weekend's league opener at Tottenham, a fixture likely to be lent a tempestuous edge by City's pursuit of Harry Kane.

Nevertheless, Guardiola knows a return to peak physical fitness will come in time, even though he again took aim at scheduling arrangements by UEFA and FIFA in his post-match comments at Wembley.

The former Barcelona boss is more concerned about the mental strain endured by players who have been on a near non-stop schedule since returning to action from the coronavirus lockdown last June.

Asked whether his England players would benefit from being afforded an extra week of rest, he replied: "It depends on their heads. They have to rest and now they can be ready, but it depends on here [the head].

On whether his returning internationals would be ready to play at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Guardiola replied: "A few players get the condition so quick, others need a little more time. We will see the weight, the body fat, how they arrive. And especially their heads.

"There are players who play three, four or five days and their mentality is positive and they are ready to fight and suffer in the bad conditions. Some of them take a little more time.

"We will try to discover which ones are ready immediately."

Foden is unlikely to be among that group, given he must still recover from the foot injury that ruled him out of England's penalty shoot-out loss to Italy.

Stones was an ever-present at centre-back for Gareth Southgate's side, while Sterling and Walker were each named in the UEFA Team of the Tournament.

"All of them, they played really well. I'm glad and happy for them. They have had many years together," Guardiola said.

"They made an incredible achievement. When you achieve a final in the Euro it's a big, big thing.

"They have to be so proud of what they have done with the national team. The benefits to the confidence will be there.

"But the past is the past. What you have done with the national team is for the memories. The challenge is ahead of us to do a good season."

Cristiano Ronaldo was the biggest omission as UEFA named the Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament.

Five players from competition winners Italy made the best XI announced on Tuesday, though there was no place for Golden Boot winner Ronaldo.

The Portugal forward scored five times, as did the Czech Republic's Patrik Schick, but Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku got the nod in a front three with Federico Chiesa and Raheem Sterling.

Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire were the other England representatives in the team.

But there was no place for fellow defender Luke Shaw, who scored in the final to cap a fine tournament, or his Manchester United team-mate Paul Pogba, one of the tournament's stars before France's elimination in the last 16.

Player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma was joined by Italy quartet Leonardo Bonucci, Leonardo Spinazzola, Jorginho and Chiesa.

However, midfield star Marco Verratti missed out despite some influential performances in the knockout stages.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Pedri were the sole representatives for Denmark and Spain respectively, both teams having gone out in the semi-finals.

Lukaku also edged out Harry Kane, Karim Benzema and Emil Forsberg, who all ended up with the same goal tally (four) as the Inter forward.

 

The best players to miss out

Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer enjoyed an incredible tournament, saving a Kylian Mbappe penalty in his side's shoot-out win against France in the last 16.

He made a tournament-high 21 saves in total, 10 of those coming in the eventual defeat to Spain on penalties in the quarter-finals.

Denzel Dumfries saw his reputation enhanced during Euro 2020, even if the Netherlands were sent packing by the Czech Republic at the last-16 stage.

He became just the second ever Netherlands player, after Ruud van Nistelrooy, to score in his first two European Championship appearances, while also helping his side to a couple of clean sheets in his four outings.

Bonucci and Maguire earning selection meant their centre-back colleagues Giorgio Chiellini and John Stones narrowly missed out despite playing crucial roles.

England conceded just two goals all tournament, with only one of those coming in open play. A large part of that was down to ever-present defender Stones, who won 20 aerial challenges – the joint-second most of any defender in the competition, one behind Maguire.

Shaw was left out for England's opening game against Croatia, but the full-back soon made himself a consistent presence. He was even compared to the great Roberto Carlos after starring with two assists against Ukraine in the quarter-finals.

The Manchester United defender provided three assists in total and netted the fastest-ever goal in a European Championship final with his volley against Italy. Those four goal involvements were bettered only by Schick (five) and Ronaldo (six).

Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Verratti was a major fitness doubt for the tournament and sat out Italy's first two matches, but made an emormous impact in the following five games.

Since his first game against Wales on June 20, all-rounder Verratti ranked first among all midfielders at Euro 2020 for chances created (14), passes completed (388), progressive carries (59), tackles (18) and recoveries of possession (37).

 

Pogba likely paid the price for his team's exit rather than his own displays. 

He scored a stunning goal against Switzerland after getting two assists in the 2-2 group-stage draw with Portugal, and his supreme link-up play with Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Benzema was among the highlights of the early weeks of the tournament.

Schick not only scored the joint-most goals, but he was responsible for surely the most memorable one of the lot - a 49.7-yard lob against Scotland, the furthest ever distance a goal has been scored at a European Championships.

The Bayer Leverkusen forward found the net in all but one of his side's games, with three of his goals coming from open play, compared to just two for Ronaldo.

Even though it was far from a vintage tournament for Ronaldo and dethroned champions Portugal, the Juventus superstar still claimed the Golden Boot accolade thanks to having one assist more than fellow five-goal forward Schick.

Ronaldo's 72 minutes per goal was the best return of any player to have played at least three times in the tournament. 

His haul also moved him level with Iran great Ali Daei as the all-time leading goalscorer in men's international football with 109, a record that he will get a chance to break later this year.

 

UEFA's Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy); Kyle Walker (England), Leonardo Bonucci (Italy), Harry Maguire (England), Leonardo Spinazzola (Italy); Jorginho (Italy), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Denmark), Pedri (Spain); Federico Chiesa (Italy), Romelu Lukaku (Belgium), Raheem Sterling (England).

Italy ended their 53-year wait for a second European Championship crown with victory over England in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley.

Leonardo Bonucci cancelled out an early Luke Shaw goal to take the game to extra time and then penalties, which the Azzurri edged 3-2 to inflict heartbreak on hosts England.

Italy's triumph was deserved on the basis of the qualifying campaign and the tournament itself; Roberto Mancini's side have now gone 34 games unbeaten in all competitions.

England can also be proud of their run, and it is perhaps no surprise that the two finalists dominate Stats Perform's best XI of the tournament.

Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo is also included in our Opta data-driven side, along with players from Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

 

Goalkeeper: Yann Sommer (Switzerland)

Gianluigi Donnarumma may have been named UEFA's Player of the Tournament for his penalty shoot-out heroics against Spain and Italy, but Sommer gets the nod after enjoying an incredible tournament.

The Swiss goalkeeper saved a Kylian Mbappe penalty in his side's shoot-out win against France in the last 16 and made a tournament-high 21 saves in total, 10 of those coming in the eventual defeat to Spain on penalties in the quarter-finals.

 

Right-back: Denzel Dumfries (Netherlands)

Dumfries' reputation was certainly enhanced during Euro 2020, even if the Netherlands were sent packing by the Czech Republic at the last-16 stage.

He became just the second ever Netherlands player, after Ruud van Nistelrooy, to score in his first two European Championship appearances, while also helping his side to a couple of clean sheets in his four outings.

Centre-back: Leonardo Bonucci (Italy)

Juventus defender Bonucci was a rock at the heart of Italy's defence, particularly in the quarter-finals when frustrating Belgium's plethora of attackers.

No defender made more interceptions than the 34-year-old (12, level with Ukraine's Mykola Matvienko), and it was his bundled finish that drew his country level against England in the final.

Centre-back: John Stones (England)

England conceded just two goals all tournament, with only one of those coming in open play. A large part of that was down to ever-present defender Stones, who carried his club form with Manchester City onto the international stage.

Stones won 20 aerial challenges – the joint-second most of any defender in the competition, one behind Harry Maguire – and his 447 successful passes placed him behind only Jordi Alba (458) and club-mate Aymeric Laporte (644).

Left-back: Luke Shaw (England)

Shaw was left out for England's opening game against Croatia, but the full-back soon made himself a consistent presence. He was even compared to the great Roberto Carlos after starring with two assists against Ukraine in the quarter-finals.

The Manchester United defender provided three assists in total and netted the fastest-ever goal in a European Championship final with his volley against Italy. Those four goal involvements were bettered only by Patrik Schick (five) and Ronaldo (six).

 

Central midfield: Marco Verratti (Italy)

The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder was a major fitness doubt for the tournament and sat out Italy's first two matches, but boy did he make an impact in the following five games.

Since his first game against Wales on June 20, all-rounder Verratti ranked first among all midfielders at Euro 2020 for chances created (14), passes completed (388), progressive carries (59), tackles (18) and recoveries of possession (37).

Central midfield: Pedri (Spain)

A number of young players enjoyed a breakthrough tournament at this edition of the Euros, arguably none more so than Barcelona superstar in the making Pedri, who made more passes in the opposing half (348) than any other player at the Euros.

He became the second European player to start as many as five games at the age of 18 or below in major tournament history, after Northern Ireland's Norman Whiteside. Proving age is just a number, Pedri completed all 55 of his passes in regular time in the semi-final loss to Italy.

Right wing: Federico Chiesa (Italy)

Versatile wide player Chiesa was always going to be one to watch at the Euros, having stepped up on the big occasions for Juventus last season with goals in key matches, including their Coppa Italia triumph against Atalanta.

He scored Italy's extra-time opener in their last-16 win against Austria and put his side ahead against Spain in the semi-finals. He was not afraid to shoot – only three others did so on more occasions – and was arguably Italy's most dangerous player in the final.

Attacking midfield: Patrik Schick (Czech Republic)

Schick not only scored the joint-most goals, his five strikes putting him level with Ronaldo, but he was responsible for surely the most memorable one of the lot - a 49.7-yard lob against Scotland, the furthest ever distance a goal has been scored at a European Championships.

The Bayer Leverkusen forward found the net in all but one of his side's games, with three of his goals coming from open play, compared to just two for Golden Boot winner Ronaldo.

 

Left wing: Raheem Sterling (England)

England's run to the final would not have been possible if not for the fine form of Sterling, the Manchester City winger responsible for his side's first three goals in the competition.

That includes winning strikes against Croatia and the Czech Republic in the group stage, followed by the opener against Germany in the last 16, before assisting Kane's early goal against Ukraine. Even when not scoring he was a real threat, leading the way with 20 dribbles completed – four more than next player on the list in Frenkie de Jong.

Centre-forward: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Even though it was far from a vintage tournament for Ronaldo and dethroned champions Portugal, the Juventus superstar still claimed the Golden Boot accolade thanks to having one assist more than fellow five-goal forward Schick.

Ronaldo's 72 minutes per goal was the best return of any player to have played at least three times in the tournament. His haul also moved him level with Iran great Ali Daei as the all-time leading goalscorer in men's international football with 109, a record that he will get a chance to break later this year.

 

Raheem Sterling should be named player of the tournament if England beat Italy to win Euro 2020, according to Jamie Carragher.

With the 26-year-old having rounded off last season with just one goal from his last 16 appearances for Manchester City, it was suggested that his England starting place might be under threat.

However, he has come alive at the tournament, scoring the Three Lions' first three goals of the tournament (two of which were winners), grabbing an assist, and winning the penalty that booked a place in the final.

And former England international Carragher believes those contributions have marked him out as the star man of Euro 2020.

"Nobody has been able to cope with Sterling in this tournament," he told Sky Sports. "If England go on to win he will win player of the tournament – he has been outstanding.

"His position was questioned before the tournament after not having his best season at Man City but from what we have seen Sterling always has to be in this England team.

"The pace he provides, the goals he provides. He has become a major goal threat under Gareth Southgate. 

"We can talk about how Italy can stop him, but if he makes runs in behind the centre-backs and the right full-back then he can be a threat.

"An obvious change at some stage would be Jack Grealish coming on and playing down the left and Sterling going down the right to have a go at Emerson from Chelsea, who has not played a lot of football this season.

"He is the one who can cause Italy some real problems."

 

England have yet to concede an open-play goal at this summer's tournament - thanks in no small part to the work of a midfield shield comprised of Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice.

And Carragher thinks their role will be key again in the final if Gareth Southgate's side are to get over the line.

He continued: "Midfield is key for England, if England don’t get the centre of midfield right, that is where they could have a huge problem.

"Italy are really strong through the centre of the pitch – certainly at centre-back and central midfield, there is a lot of onus on England's midfield three in this game. 

"If they perform and can get after the Italians midfield then England have certainly got enough in the attacking areas of the pitch to win the game.

"But midfield is a real strength of Italy so that is where England have really got to get on top and make it difficult, so it will be up to Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice and Mason Mount in there.

"A lot has been made about the centre-back partnership – outstanding,  legendary players for their country and for Juventus [but] you shouldn’t forget how old they are though.

"I think England can out run them basically in this game, the energy from the bench will be vital as it was in the Denmark game. 

"It will be really tight game – I think we are looking at the best two teams in this tournament, certainly on form, so I think it’s the right final."

 

Raheem Sterling has struck fear into opponents at Euro 2020 ahead of England's final showdown with Italy, former Three Lions forward Emile Heskey told Stats Perform.

Sterling had already scored three goals before laying on the opener for captain Harry Kane in the 4-0 quarter-final win against Ukraine.

The Manchester City attacker was then in electrifying form in the semi-final versus Denmark, eventually winning the decisive penalty in extra time, with Kane beating Kasper Schmeichel on the rebound after his initial spot-kick was saved.

Sterling has attempted (32) and completed (18) more take-ons than any other player at Euro 2020 and Heskey believes this relentless edge to the 26-year-old's game will be vital as he pits his wits against the expertise of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in the Italy defence.

"Raheem has showed us time and time again that he is a key player to any team that he goes into," he said.

"Whether it be when he was very young and was playing for Liverpool, or now as a senior pro – even though he's only 26 – playing for the for the national team and playing for Man City. He always brings something.

"You watch him when he's on the ball, he takes away three or four players that become attracted to him.

"If he gives it away, he'll inevitably be trying win it back. But when you've got four people attracted to one player, there should be ample space for others and that's what he brings to the table because everyone's so scared of him.

"He's got that pace and we see a lot of players with pace, but to be able to utilize it in the way that he does… even in extra time [against Denmark] he was driving past players and taking them on.

"Players were not wanting to get too close, because it's going to be a foul if you get too close to him. No defender wants to go anywhere near him."

 

Heskey is also a huge admirer of the manner in which Sterling and other members of the England squad have stood up for causes they believe in over recent months.

Sterling was awarded an MBE last month for his efforts to promote racial equality, while England's players have continued to take a knee before matches despite the likes of UK prime minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Pritti Patel defending fans who chose to boo the peaceful protest.

"It's fantastic. You’ve got to take your hat off to them, because again, they're getting a little bit of kickback," said Heskey, who was also keen to acknowledge Marcus Rashford's work in trying to combat child hunger.

"But they know that they're doing the right thing standing up for what they believe, whether it's Marcus, whether it's Raheem, whoever it is. They want to stand up for what they believe.

"The wrong people are going to try and sabotage that. But they know that they've got most of the people behind them."

Heskey added: "We're not just talking about fans, we're talking about all walks of life, talking about MP's saying whether it's right or wrong.

"So we're having kickbacks from everywhere, but they're still pushing. They're still not listening. They're still doing what they believe is right."

In the immediate, dazzling afterglow of England beating Denmark 2-1 over 120 minutes to secure a first major final appearance since 1966, Gareth Southgate praised his team's resilience.

That quality has always been readily associated with his country's national team. Perhaps you think of Terry Butcher's blood-stained head bandage or Stuart Pearce screaming maniacally after exorcising his penalty shoot-out demons.

Or maybe less successful iterations. Even when they've not been so accomplished on the field, there is a common perception of England being good for going down swinging, raging against the dying of the light to find glory in failure.

Raheem Sterling doesn't fit that template. The Manchester City forward is one of the most successful and decorated players of his generation, with eight major honours to his name at club level, most of which he has played a decisive role in securing.

That sounds like the sort of player who might be England's standout performer as they await Sunday's date with Italy and destiny at Wembley. And he is – at Euro 2020, Sterling has been electrifying as the driving force of Southgate's side.

But the acclaim to match that status has been hard to spot, maddeningly so at certain points of his career. Although he is cut from a different cloth to Butcher, Pearce or the archetypal English "warrior" footballer, Sterling is arguably the most resilient player England has ever seen. Whether he should have to have been so resilient is another matter entirely.

 

From the boy wonder to #TheHatedOne

On Sunday, Sterling goes back to the start, returning again to the stadium that overlooked his boyhood home, the canvas for fantastical daydreams, and to the opponents he faced on his major tournament debut at the 2014 World Cup.

Roy Hodgson's England crashed out without winning a game in Brazil, but none of the blame was pinned on a fresh-faced 19-year-old who represented a hope of better days to come.

Handed the number 10 role behind then club-mate Daniel Sturridge, Sterling dazzled early on in the 2-1 defeat to Italy in Manaus, taking his form from a breakout season at Liverpool into national colours. A now familiar scampering dribble preceded a 25-yard drive that rippled the side netting. So close to the opener and an optical illusion of a goal that sent pints flying in pubs back home.

That was only Sterling's fifth cap and the first time he completed 90 minutes for England, but any honeymoon was over a year later when he was booed during a friendly away to the Republic of Ireland. Dublin is a Liverpool stronghold and the winger's wish to leave Anfield had become laced with bitterness and acrimony.

 

His desire to join City has been vindicated through weight of trophies and achievements, although the jury remained out after a tough first season under Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium and he was the focus of ire during England's unhappy Euro 2016 campaign.

In a social media post, he labelled himself #TheHatedOne following criticism of his performance during the 1-1 draw with Russia. Against Wales, he missed a glorious chance to score and was substituted at half-time.

Sterling returning to the side to win an early penalty was long forgotten by the time minnows Iceland completed their 2-1 last-16 win over Hodgson's beleaguered team. In the days following that debacle, one newspaper branded him "Obscene Raheem" on its front page for "showing off" his "blinging house".

It turned out Sterling bought the property for his mother, who raised him alone in Jamaica and then London after his father was murdered.

 

"I'm not normally the person to talk but when I think I need my point heard I will speak up"

Those early challenges of Sterling's resilience – whatever undertones might have accompanied assertions that he was some sort of ungrateful money grabber – were related to his sporting performance, even if the tabloid takedown was utterly tenuous and tawdry.

Coming through failure on the biggest stages to succeed over and over demonstrates thrilling resilience that fans love to see; the sort of resilience that allows great performers to realise sport's most narratively compelling moments.

But Sterling has also frequently delved into reserves no one should have to call upon in a decent society.

"Someone called my name – my full name – so I thought, 'Oh, they probably know me'. At this point people were starting to recognise me a bit," Sterling told GQ in 2019, recalling the first time he suffered racial abuse after joining Liverpool as a schoolboy.

"He says, 'Can I speak to you for a second?' I said, 'Yeah, no problem.' So I walk across the road and then he says the n-word and he headbutts me.

"I took care of the rest. A hundred per cent he regretted it."

In some ways, it feels like Sterling has been taking care of the rest ever since. Like when he was assaulted and racially abused at City's training ground in December 2017 by a Manchester United supporter. Later that day, he scored twice in a 4-1 win over Tottenham.

Or when he was abused by fans at Stamford Bridge a year later and responded with an eloquent Instagram post calling for equal treatment of black and white footballers in the media, urging an end to any coverage that "helps fuel racism and aggressive behaviour".

Or when he was one of several England players targeted by monkey chants in Montenegro and Bulgaria in 2019, when he scored in 5-1 and 6-0 wins.

Sterling was also at the forefront of football supporting Black Lives Matter following the killing of George Floyd and received an MBE last month in recognition of his work promoting racial equality.

But there was weariness when he discussed his activism in an interview with ITV last week, one that is entirely understandable when a minority of fans boo him and his England colleagues for taking the knee before kick-off – their peaceful, dignified protest against racial injustice.

It feels even more understandable when UK government ministers who gave licence to those booing and dismissed kneeling as a "gesture" are now firing out #ItsComingHome tweets at every opportunity, wearing England shirts or standing on a massive flag.

"It's not something I'm killing myself to do anymore, I'm not going to be on the frontline speaking about it. We're adults enough now to understand these things. I just feel, when it comes to racial abuse, it's not taken seriously," Sterling said.

 

"Everything we have done in the past, without him would not have been possible"

A line of attack for those dubious on Sterling's capabilities over recent years has been to suggest his status as an inspiring role model means shortcomings on the pitch are overlooked.

That specious logic falls down when you consider Pep Guardiola's ruthlessly unsentimental approach to constructing football teams.

Since inheriting Sterling in 2016, he has signed Leroy Sane, Nolito, Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez and Ferran Torres – all players able to operate with some distinction and capped by their countries in wide attacking roles.

Until a poor run of form in the second half of last season, Sterling saw them all off – becoming as close to an untouchable as Guardiola allows. He is one of only three players to have scored 100 goals under the Catalan's management. The others are Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero. 

 

Guardiola does not pick Sterling because he is "an incredible person, incredible human being", as he said in the wake of the Stamford Bridge abuse. In January this year, when Sterling's form was questioned in a news conference, he sharply retorted: "Everything we have done in the past, without him would not have been possible."

When City won the Premier League title with 100 points and also lifted the EFL Cup in 2017-18, Sterling scored 23 goals and supplied 15 assists in all competitions. In 2018-19, when his brace in the FA Cup final helped to round off an unprecedented domestic treble, those numbers were up to 25 goals and 15 assists.

The 2019-20 season was Sterling's most prolific with 31 goals, although it ended with a horror miss in a Champions League quarter-final loss to Lyon. His conversion of opportunities Opta rank as "big chances" was down from 58.1 per cent in 2018-19 to 39.7.

Unreliable finishing remains an unwanted feature of Sterling's game and was once again the focus when goals dried up en route to a third Premier League title in four years last season.

Overall, 24 goal involvements (14 goals and 10 assists) represented his lowest since Guardiola's first season in 2016-17, but far from a disaster. For some, however, it seemed a 30-goal campaign should be the norm and Sterling was useless for falling away from three seasons of incredible consistency.

Just a tap-in merchant who'd been found out. With the likes of Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka in his squad, why on earth would Southgate persist with Sterling?

 

"Have I justified my place in the team?"

It was easy to fear for the player with a tattoo of himself as a boy looking up at the Wembley arch, who appeared wretchedly out of form when recalled for City's Champions League final defeat to Chelsea. The moment he had spent a career and a lifetime anticipating was around the corner and he looked ill-equipped to grasp it.

Plus, England duty under the glare of the nation had previously not been too kind to Sterling. Across 12 games and 828 minutes in major tournaments heading into Euro 2020, he had no goals and one assist.

"It's not been an easy road with the national team in the past. Some, I'd say, unfair flack that I would get before touching a football sometimes," he told BBC Sport

"As a young person it was difficult to deal with. In life and football you have to challenge yourself and take it for what it is. You can't be down on yourself, you have to push yourself even more.

"That's what I've kept doing and I think that's one of my best traits."

 

Sterling performed tirelessly for the cause as England reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, but the paucity of his return in front of goal left him on the outside looking in when it came to the feelgood factor that enveloped the bulk of Southgate's squad.

We're back to the resilience again, because the forward produced the best season of his career in 2018-19 to be named Football Writers' Association Player of the Year. He also enjoyed belated lift-off with the Three Lions.

Heading into an October 2018 Nations League showdown against Spain in Seville, he had two goals and nine assists in 45 caps. He netted two more in a thrilling 3-2 win. From cap 46 to his 67th versus Denmark he has scored 15 and laid on another seven – averaging a goal involvement every 87 minutes.

This is the version of Sterling that Southgate and England have enjoyed so much at Euro 2020, where he sealed 1-0 group stage wins over Croatia and the Czech Republic before breaking the deadlock against Germany to spark round-of-16 pandemonium in his neighbourhood.

It is perhaps a little sweeter that this purple patch for his country has come at a time when relations with Guardiola have come to appear strained. Another example of Sterling being damned with faint praise is his improvement at City being frequently cited – although, it should be said, never by the manager himself – as a triumph of coaching genius as much as his own endeavours.

He ended extra time against Denmark tearing through a shattered opposition defence to draw another save from Kasper Schmeichel. He was everywhere in a performance Gary Lineker hailed as "one of the greatest displays I've seen from a player in an England shirt".

 

Sterling has attempted (32) and completed (18) more dribbles than any other player at Euro 2020. He has never had more touches in the opposition box (38, 13.3 per cent of his overall touches) at any previous tournament. His expected goals (xG) and expected assists (xA) figures of 3.82 and 1.14 are also far in excess of past efforts and paint a picture of a player almost always involved when England create high-quality chances.

This is player-of-the-tournament form. By Sunday night, it might stand as the greatest ever showing in this setting by an Englishman.

But if it all goes wrong, a sitter is missed and the insults fly again – he's a diver now, you see, as well as a tap-in merchant – the seven years since that first tangle with Italy tell us Sterling will bounce back with all the fearlessness, brilliance and resilience we should have long since learned to cherish.

Raheem Sterling has been "unplayable" for England and one last big performance from the Manchester City star could prove to be the difference against Italy.

That is the opinion of former England captain Alan Shearer ahead of the Euro 2020 final at Wembley on Sunday.

England reached their first final at a major tournament since 1966 when they came from behind to beat Denmark 2-1 in extra-time on Wednesday.

Sterling produced an effervescent display and won the controversial penalty that was converted by Harry Kane on the rebound to settle a thrilling contest.

 

Shearer believes the City forward, who scored goals in the wins over Croatia, the Czech Republic and Germany, has been England's standout performer.

"The best two teams in the tournament have reached the final, and it is going to be an incredibly tight game," Shearer wrote in his column for BBC Sport as he previewed the final.

"Italy have gone 33 games without losing which shows how strong they are. They have got the same sort of togetherness in their squad that we have,.

"But England have put in some extremely good performances too, and so many of our players have done their bit when it has mattered.

"It was Harry Kane who put us into the final with the winner on Wednesday and he was excellent for the whole game. So was Harry Maguire, and the rest of our back four too.

"The best player on the park, though, was Raheem Sterling. He was unplayable at times and it was probably his finest game in an England shirt.

"More of the same from Sterling on Sunday, and we have got one hell of a chance.

"The other thing we have got going for us, of course, is the Wembley crowd. There will be more than 65,000 fans again at the final, and the majority of them will be behind England.

"They were immense against Denmark and stuck with the team when they were 1-0 down. The players fed off their intensity when they turned things around."

 

Shearer also paid tribute to manager Gareth Southgate, who was ecstatic on the pitch after the victory over Denmark.

Southgate has made some heavily debated calls in the tournament - including restricting flair players Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho to limited roles – but has led England to their first final for 55 years.

Shearer added: "There are several reasons why I will believe in this England team when they walk out at Wembley on Sunday, and Southgate is the biggest one.

"He's led his team brilliantly in every way since Euro 2020 started and not only has he made some big decisions, he has got all of them right.

"It's easier being a player than a supporter in the stands and, like many of you, I've found it hard in the past few weeks watching on as an England fan when our games have been in the balance.

"Just imagine how tough it is for Gareth, though. As England manager he has got 60 million people on his back because he carries the hopes of all of us, the entire nation.

"There is so much scrutiny on every single call he makes, and then he has to stand alone on the touchline waiting for them to work.

"So I could understand his relief and his reaction at the end of the Denmark game when he let his emotions pour out. He did that because he feels the same way we do when we win.

"Whatever happens next, he has given us so much joy and happiness - but I'm desperate to see that same celebration again from him on Sunday night."

 

Resurgent forward Kane will lead the line for England and he has been directly involved in 28 goals in his past 27 international appearances (19 goals and nine assists).

He has already caught and surpassed the goal total recorded by Shearer (nine) at major tournaments.

One more strike will see him become England’s outright highest goalscorer in the World Cup and Euros – he is currently level with Gary Lineker on 10.

England won the World Cup in 1966 as hosts, but each of the previous two European host nation finalists in a major tournament have lost – Portugal in Euro 2004 and France at the 2016 tournament.

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes England's extra-time penalty in Wednesday's 2-1 Euro 2020 semi-final win over Denmark should not have been awarded.

Harry Kane scored England's 104th-minute winner, firing home the rebound after his spot-kick was initially saved by Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

Raheem Sterling won the penalty going down on the byline on the right side of the box under pressure from Joakim Maehle.

Sterling claimed post-game it was a "clear penalty" but Wenger - who is now FIFA's Chief of Global Football Development - disagreed, insisting the VAR should have summoned referee Danny Makkelie to look at the replay at least.

"No penalty. In a moment like that, I don’t understand why they [the VAR] didn't ask the referee to have a look at it to be clear," Wenger said on beIN SPORTS.

"In a moment like that it's important the referee is absolutely convinced it was a penalty. It was not clear enough to say 'yes it is'.

"He should've at least had a look at the screen. I don’t know why the VAR didn't ask him to go."

The 71-year-old former Arsenal boss did not go as far as saying the VAR had let down Denmark, labelling them "unfortunate".

"I think the VAR has let the referee down, not Denmark," Wenger said.

"Denmark is a bit unfortunate. It's difficult for the referee but he must have a look at it."

The penalty was the 17th awarded at Euro 2020, with Kane's initial effort becoming the eighth spot-kick missed.

Only 13 penalties were awarded in total in the group stages of the past three European Championships.

Last week, UEFA chief refereeing officer Robert Rosetti attributed VAR for the rise in penalties at this tournament.

England will play Italy in Sunday's Euro 2020 final at Wembley.

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