Writer: Gavin Kelley-Day
Date:Sunday June 15 2014
Teenage Reds star Raheem Sterling has been lavished with praise despite England's 2-1 defeat to Italy in their World Cup opener...
England's 2014 World Cup campaign over in Brazil may have got off to a disappointing start result wise, but there were plenty of positives to take from a steamy evening in Manaus.
Chief amongst them was the performance of Liverpool's Raheem Sterling, who was widely regarded to be Man of the Match.
The 19-year-old winger, winning just his fifth international cap, started in a central role behind Anfield colleague Daniel Sturridge and almost opened the scoring inside four minutes with a fine effort from distance which hit the side netting.
Sterling, who showed no sign of nerves in his first tournament appearance for the Three Lions, repeatedly caused the Italians problems with his positive approach and direct running style.
He played a pivotal part in bringing the scores level just 90 seconds after Claudio Marchisio had put the Azzurri in front in the 35th minute.
A beautifully weighted through-ball provided Wayne Rooney with the time and space to pick out Sturridge at the back post.
Although Mario Balotelli's header shortly after the break would ultimately decide the contest, England, and Sterling in particular, looked dangerous throughout and on another night they could easily have won.
Of the starlet's performance, the BBC's chief football writer Phil McNulty subsequently wrote: "England's star man. Ran with pace and threat, almost daring Italy's defenders to touch him. Fully justified his selection."
The Guardian's Ed Aarons offered similar praise, saying: "[Sterling] justified selection inside the first four minutes with brilliant long-range effort. Superb pass to play in Rooney for equaliser and caused constant problems for Italian defenders."
"Hodgson's big gamble was fully justified. One of England's best players. Wonderful moments and great vision," was how the Mirror's John Cross summed up proceedings.
"Fearless and dangerous," commented the Daily Telegraph's Matt Law, while namesake Barlow, of the Daily Mail, went with; "fast, exciting and influential".
Five Liverpool players featured for England in total with Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson, like Sterling, playing the full 90 minutes, while Jordan Henderson lasted 73 before being replaced by Arsenal's Jack Wilshere.
New signing Rickie Lambert was an unused substitute but may be called into action against Uruguay on Thursday after Sturridge was forced from the field through injury with 10 minutes remaining.
"Everybody is working extremely hard. Everybody is pushing themselves to their limits," reflected the 24-year-old striker after the game.
"I'm pushing myself to my limits and I've got a dead leg now but I'm trying to get over that for the next game.
"I feel everyone played very well and we were just unfortunate."
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Date:Sunday June 15 2014
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