Raheem Sterling scored a spectacular hat-trick as the Three Lions routed woeful Czech Republic 5-0 at Wembley tonight to give England the perfect start in their bid for qualification for Euro 2020.
The Manchester City Live-wire tormented the visitors all night.
Manager Gareth Southgate gave the wide man the rare luxury of the individual honour befitting an heroic performance.
Sterling justifiably got a magnificent reception from the sell-out crowd as he walked off the Wembley pitch seconds after his third goal - he was replaced by Chelsea’s Callum Hudson Odoi.
While it was Sterling’s night, the equally impressive performances of debutants Declan Rice and Hudson-Odoi will give Southgate a bit of a headache in terms of team selection ahead of Monday’s second qualifier away to Montenegro.
There was a palpable sense of jubilation from the crowd at the end, but analysis of the game will highlight a first-half of dominance without putting the opponent to the sword. A shaky start to the second half was soon settled by the flurry of goals. But this is still a work in progress.
Despite copious amounts of possession, the Three Lions struggled in the early part of the game to assert any authority close to the Czech penalty area.
The visitors, while robust in the challenge Raheem Sterling almost latched onto a lovely through ball by Harry Kane on 15 minutes, but the Londoner failed to connect with the ball and it fell into the gleeful palms of Jiri Pavlenka.
Chelsea’s Ross Barkley entered the fray seconds later, replacing Spurs’ Eric Dier, who failed to fully recover from an early, hefty challenge.
The Manchester City striker made up for the missed opportunity with a simple, unchallenged, slide-in on 25 minutes. Sharpe interchange veteran Henderson and Kane, saw the ball fed wide to the right to Jadon Sancho. The youngster, might have had a shoelace in an offside position, but low cross was perfect for the in-running Sterling, who put England 1-0 up.
It was Sterling’s fifth goal for England in 48 appearances for England.
On the stroke of half-time, England were given a dubious penalty as Sterling tried to get between Tomas Kalas and Ondrej Celustka. Portugal referee Arthur Dias somehow saw an infringement and pointed to the spot.
Harry Kane duly stepped up to dispatch the sport kick despite Pavlenka getting a hand to they ball.
It was the last kick of the half.
There were no changes by either side at half-time, but the game became instantly more expansive.
The Czech’s must have felt cheated and reacted accordingly by forcing England back in the opening exchanges.
Tomas Soucek was desperately unlucky to see his acrobatic diving header, from just inside the home side’s penalty area, zip across the slippery turf, beat Pickford, but go inches past his right post.
David Pavlenka saw his snap shot well held by the Everton goalkeeper.
Pavlenka spared the blushes of team-mate Filipi Novak on 52 minutes as the defender saw the ball bounce off his body, goal-bound. The goalkeeper managed to parry it away and the chance was cleared.
Sancho should have scored but Kalas managed to provide a physical buffer. But the ball ricocheted off Dele Alli and bounced over the Czech crossbar.
But the Three Lions forced the issue on 62 minutes, and after another comic piece of pinball between two Czech players, the ball fell invitingly to Sterling, who did a 180 degree turn and beautifully curled a sweet left-footer into the top right hand side of Pavlenka’s goal to make it 3-0.
England boss Gareth Southgate then replace ineffectual Dele Alli with debutant Declan Rice.
The former Chelsea youngster who plays for West Ham got a positive reception from the crowd having decided to change international allegiance. He had played three senior matches for Eire but they all were friendlies, allowing the Kingston-born holding midfielder the play for England.
Sterling scored his hat-trick goal, on 69 minutes. There was an element of good fortune as his strike, while on target, took a wicked deflection off Celustka and dropped into the back of the net.
Chelsea’s mercurially talented 18-year-old Callum Hudson-Odoi made his debut as Southgate replaced hero Sterling almost before he stopped celebrating his goal.
Number five came seven minutes from time. Hudson-Odoi produced a fine curling right-footer - Pavlenka parried the ball away but only to Kalas who comically redirected the ball back into his own net.
Teams: England: Pickford, Walker, Chilwell, Dier, Keane, Maguire, Sancho, Henderson, Kane, Alli, Sterling
Subs: Heaton, Butland, Tripper, Rose, Tarkowski, Rice, Ward-Prowse, Barkley, Wilson, Hudson-Odoi
Czech Republic: Pavenka, Kaderabek, Celustka, Gebre Selassie, Kalas, Darida, Jankto, Soucek, Schlick, Novak
Subs: Kolar, Koubek, Coufal, Zmrhal, Dockal, Frydek, Masopust, Krai, Suchy, Kudela, Vydra, Skoda
Referee - Artur Dias (Portugal)