Sterling is still vital for England despite lack of goals

Wednesday, 11 Jul, 2018

England manager Gareth Southgate has launched a staunch defence of Raheem Sterling ahead of the World Cup semi-final against Croatia.

Sterling received criticism prior to the World Cup when a British tabloid targeted him for having a gun tattooed on his leg.

His performance against Sweden on Saturday saw him ranked the worse England player on the BBC website. "I think he has been fantastic, his consistency has been incredible and I think he fully deserves it".

"He is getting in all the right positions, but sometimes you look at Sterling and you think, if he didn't have that pace he'd be playing for Exeter or someone".

"They dealt with Sweden relatively easily so we know they are going to be a hard opponent and we respect them", he said. "We don't fear England or anybody else".

"I wouldn't say there are any glaring weaknesses (in England's team) since they are in the semi-finals, that says it all". Full-back Ashley Young said the bond between the players has helped make the camp feel like a holiday.

On a more positive note, he looked forward to playing another attack-minded team in England after his side's relative struggles against the more defensive styles of Iceland, Denmark and Russian Federation. There is no doubt that Southgate has been blessed with a plethora of English blood coming through the ranks all across top flight - if Ruben Loftus-Cheek seized his World Cup spot with a wonderful loan spell, the national team captain Harry Kane has had the most profound education - written off by many in his early years, the Tottenham Hotspur forward has been consistently sensational. They will face Croatia in Moscow on Wednesday night.

Playing alongside Liverpool's Dejan Lovren, Vida has been one of the best defenders at Russian Federation 2018 and Dalic said he would be key to Croatia's plans to keeping Kane out, just as they stopped Argentina's Lionel Messi and Christian Eriksen of Denmark. "We've learned from our mistakes, we've made things right and we've seen the way the country has got behind us".

"If we were to send England on holiday, too, it would be great because England has one of the best leagues in the world, if not the best".

England now has to confront a harder test than their previous encounters in the semifinal where they will come up against Croatia who defeated Russian Federation earlier to progress into the next round.