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.
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