The World Cup is now just days away from kicking off in Russia and the England squad has one final challenge to overcome before they jet off to Eastern Europe with the intention of exercising the demons that hover after disappointing campaigns in recent international tournaments.
Gareth Southgate’s squad tackle Costa Rica on Thursday evening at Leeds’ Elland Road, where a number of fringe players in the squad could be given their chance to make a final impression after a first-choice line-up overcame Nigeria at Wembley.
While the likes of Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck will be hoping to get their opportunity to shine, eyes will be cast upon Manchester City’s Premier League winning star Raheem Sterling – who has been thrust into the public eye in recent weeks.
Unfairly targeted by tabloid hacks, Sterling has become the latest in a long line of England greats to be scrutinised by the press and, like Wayne Rooney and David Beckham before him, must answer his critics on the field.
The difference previously has been the reasons for the attention being cast over the England stars, as both Rooney and Beckham were sent off in international tournaments before seeing their name regularly adorn the back pages of the press. With Sterling, the attention has come with ‘incidents’ off the field.
A lot has been said about the aggressive attitude towards Sterling and Southgate himself has defended the 23-year-old ahead of the World Cup warm up victory against Nigeria. The City ace certainly has his supporters but the challenge is now on him to hit back.
Against Nigeria, Sterling provided the assist for Harry Kane’s goal but did struggle to consistently perform in the match, especially in the second period where the overall performance of England dipped significantly.
They’ll be no room for that at the World Cup and Sterling, who is one of the more experienced players within the squad despite his tender age, is the sort of player who can take advantage and spark a game into life.
Entering the World Cup on the back of an incredible campaign under the tenure of Pep Guardiola, where he scored 23 goals and provided 12 assists in all competitions, Sterling now has to take those performances onto the international stage.
In his 38 caps so far, Sterling has mustered just two goals for the Three Lions – both of which came in qualifying for the European Championships in 2016 and both of which were scored at Wembley.
At Elland Road on Thursday in a game in which England are heavy favourites with 888sport, Sterling needs to grab the bull by the horns with any minutes on the field he gets to improve the fantastic support he has received from those who have defended him against his critics.
While all the focus may be on captain Harry Kane ahead of his first World Cup, Sterling could be the man to lead the Three Lions in Russia.