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Southgate lauds England’s maturity, bravery

On the eve of EURO 2020, Joe Prince-Wright, Andy Edwards and Nick Mendola preview the whole field -- from why England could make a deep run to why France should be heavy favorites.

LONDON -- Gareth Southgate and his England players lapped up the applause at the final whistle at Wembley, as over 22,500 fans belted out ‘Football’s Coming Home’ after their win against Croatia.

[ MORE: EURO 2020 hub ]

That’s a little premature, but Southgate’s boys have the feel-good vibes flowing in England, as they won their opening game of a European Championships for the first time.

Thanks to Raheem Sterling’s first major tournament goal and several players standing tall in their first-ever appearance at a major tournament, there is optimism England can go all the way, with potentially six of their seven games at Wembley if they were to reach the final of this tournament.

England’s manager was happy to send positivity flowing through England, and praised the bravery of his young side.

Southgate proud of young stars

“It feels great to be able to send the fans home happy and to have fans up and down the country happy, that is very special” Southgate said. “In terms of the game I was really pleased with the way we settled so quickly. Young players, inexperienced international players, big occasion, not only against a tough opponent, on a sweltering hot day.

“They had every reason to potentially look nervous at the start. But they didn’t. With and without the ball they were composed. Carried out what we wanted to do in terms of pressing brilliantly. Although it was always going to be a game of few clear chances, I thought we looked the bigger threat throughout.”

Sterling delivers first tournament goal

Southgate also lauded the midfield contribution of Kalvin Phillips, plus goalscorer Raheem Sterling, as the winger who grew up near Wembley delivered the crucial goal.

“He’s been a reliable performer for us for a long period of time,” Southgate beamed. “His goals record in the last two-and-a-half years, with us and with his club, has been good. I know this year people are saying he hasn’t hit the heights, but he is still one in three for his club and we can’t have all of the burden of scoring on Harry [Kane]'s shoulders.

“You’ve got to have players in those midfield and wide areas be a threat as well. I thought he looked a threat the whole day. I am delighted for him because it is quite a few tournament matches without scoring ahead of today’s game, and he looked a threat right from the start. His work without the ball was phenomenal, positionally and his desire to track and stop them advancing.”

Can England build momentum?

With Sterling, Phillips, Declan Rice and Tyrone Mings all standing tall and the entire team putting in a mature defensive display, Southgate has a lot of tough calls to make for his next few games, but his squad is strong and focused.

Southgate was keen to switch England’s focus to their next Group D game against bitter foes Scotland on Friday, as a win against them would send the euphoria up a few notches.

In the streets around Wembley, fans are already chanting ‘Football’s Coming Home’ and this win against Croatia, their toughest group game on paper, has given this young side, and the fans, belief they can do something special this summer.

Southgate is keen to pump the breaks as much as he can and to keep his young squad hungry, but he urged them to enjoy this win on home soil.

The fans definitely will.

Follow @JPW_NBCSports