90min
England

Harry Kane & Raheem Sterling silence doubters again as England reach Euro 2020 semi-finals

By Sean Walsh
Sterling and Kane combined in Rome
Sterling and Kane combined in Rome / ALBERTO LINGRIA/Getty Images
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No two players in the current England setup have had to prove critics wrong as much as Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane.

The former continually berated by the press for no good reason ever since he broke through as a teenager at Liverpool, the latter having the metaphorical albatross hung around his neck because of his empty trophy cabinet at Tottenham.

The duo led the way for the Three Lions at the 2018 World Cup, and despite reaching their first semi-final in 28 years, they were the ones scapegoated for not bringing football home.

Kane, despite winning the golden boot, should have squared to Sterling when England led 1-0 against Croatia. Sterling, despite being one of the most dangerous players at the tournament, should have had a more tangible impact and not been so wasteful, he should have even been dropped.

They've had mixed spells at Euro 2020 thus far. While Sterling is an undoubted contender for player of the tournament at this rate, captain Kane was substituted in two of England's group games, with contrarian fans and media suggesting he could be dropped for Dominic Calvert-Lewin. He's responded to that criticism with three huge goals in two knockout games.

Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling
Kane and Sterling are clicking at the right time / Ettore Ferrari - Pool/Getty Images

At club level, Kane and Sterling are two of the Premier League's stellar names, two of the division's best players of the last decade. Hell, even two of the best players the English top flight has ever seen. Their only naysayers are bitter rivals who are more obsessed with 'being right', even when they're laughably wrong. They are the poster boys of two of the biggest clubs in the land.

It's why it was so sweet when the two linked up again in England's 4-0 quarter-final win over Ukraine. Kane opened the scoring just minutes after kick-off after being slipped in by Sterling, who picked out the Spurs striker with a clever ball in behind.

It was this combination threatening Ukraine time and time again, with Sterling in particular having joy on both flanks and playing with real freedom and expression. Kane won a foul soon after half-time which led to Harry Maguire's second before adding the third himself. Everything England made came through one or the other, with Luke Shaw, who's had to wrestle away the aggressive criticism of Jose Mourinho for years, playing the main supporting role in the Portuguese's new back yard.

Jordan Henderson, Luke Shaw, John Stones, Harry Kane
England have a real shot at Euro 2020 glory / Alessandro Garafallo - Pool/Getty Images

This England side have been heralded as much more likeable than their predecessors. Maybe that's a by-product of the social media age where everyone's as friendly and open as they are media-trained. But they retain the chip-on-the-shoulder mentality that the very top athletes need to succeed. They're proving people wrong for the fun of it right now.

England return home to face Denmark in the semi-finals at Wembley on Wednesday, a chance to banish further demons of three years ago. They've already beaten their 2018 conquerors in Croatia, their fiercest major rival in Germany. Gareth Southgate's men stand on the brink of immortality.


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