Raheem Sterling’s hat-trick helped England swat aside the Czech Republic as Gareth Southgate’s men made a dream start to their European Championship qualification campaign.
After reaching the World Cup semi-finals and the inaugural Nations League Finals during an unforgettable 2018, the Three Lions kicked off their Euro 2020 journey at the ground where the trophy will be lifted in 478 days’ time.
Sterling netted three and won the first-half penalty converted by captain Harry Kane, with 18-year-old debutant Callum Hudson-Odoi getting away the shot that led Czech Republic defender Tomas Kalas to rather comically turn into his own goal as the match finished 5-0.
It was an impressive performance that provided yet another exciting glimpse of the future at a sold-out Wembley.
Jadon Sancho was handed his first competitive start at the age of 18 and the forward flourished in the spotlight, providing the final ball of a 25-pass move that Sterling tapped home at the far post.
Sterling won a first-half stoppage-time spot-kick, smashed home by Kane and the first competitive meeting of these countries was soon out of the Czechs’ reach.
Sterling displayed a t-shirt paying tribute to 13-year-old Damary Dawkins, who died on Sunday after a battle with leukaemia, after netting the third, before completing his hat-trick as his strike went in off Ondrej Celustka.
Former Republic of Ireland international Declan Rice – subject of scrutiny after old social media posts appearing to show support for the IRA resurfaced – was on the pitch for his debut by the time the fourth goal went in.
Fellow new boy Hudson-Odoi helped wrap things up, with his shot leading to Kalas’ own goal on the night he replaced Duncan Edwards as England’s youngest ever debutant in a competitive game.
It was a superb start to Group A and saw under-fire Jordan Pickford keep the clean sheet he pledged to dedicate to World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks in the build-up.
The England great died last month and was remembered before kick-off along with former forward Fred Pickering and the victims of the recent Christchurch attack.
The match began cagily and neither side had managed a shot by the time Eric Dier was forced off in the 16th minute after being clattered by Czech midfielder Tomas Soucek.
Ross Barkley came on and played a part in England’s first shot of the evening – a 24th minute attempt involving 10 players, 25 passes and Sterling’s first goal of the night.
Patient build-up was followed by Kane superbly putting fleet-footed Sancho behind the Czech backline, with the teenager’s first-time cross turned in at the back post by Sterling.
It did not prove the precursor to a period of sustained pressure, but Sancho was lighting up Wembley with some of his footwork and Sterling’s run brought a stoppage-time penalty
Referee Artur Dias pointed to the spot after the England forward was sandwiched in the box, with Kane’s stepping up to beat goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka.
Opposite number Pickford was relieved to see a Soucek header whistle past the far post soon after half-time, with England’s carelessness from set pieces continuing as David Pavelka forced a save soon after.
Such close shaves kicked Southgate’s side back into life.
Calamitous Czech defending from a Jordan Henderson cross would have brought an own goal was it not for goalkeeper Pavlenka, before Sancho was denied his first international goal by a late block.
England did not have to wait long for a third goal, though, as Sterling all too easily turned Celustka and curled home a left-footed strike in the 62nd minute.
Beaten for the second, the defender was involved again six minutes later as he helped Sterling complete his hat-trick by directing home an attempt from the edge of the box.
Rice came on for his debut in-between those goals and Hudson-Odoi followed him on, replacing the hat-trick hero with 20 minutes remaining.
Patrik Schick and Matej Vydra went close either side of a Kane attempt as the match wound down, with Kalas inadvertently adding gloss by turning home after Hudson-Odoi’s shot was saved.
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.