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Sterling continued where he left off at the European Championship and ensured England suffered no hangover from their defeat to Italy, as they continued their 100 per cent start to World Cup qualifying with an impressive 4-0 win at the Puskas Arena.
The match began predictably and depressingly with widespread and significant boos from the Hungary fans when England’s players took the knee, while multiple outlets reported that Sterling and Jude Bellingham were subjected to monkey chants during the second half.
The booing of the knee was widespread and not restricted to the black-shirted ultras behind the goal, instead emanating from every corner of the 60,000-seat Puskas Arena, which was nearly full.
But the louder they boo, the more determined Sterling seems to silence them.
Just as he did against Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany and Denmark over the summer, Sterling made the breakthrough when England needed one.
After an uninspiring first half – which did little to support Gareth Southgate’s claim that his side are comparable to Chelsea or Liverpool – Sterling finished a superb team move in the 55th minute, opening his body and side-footing into the corner from Mason Mount’s cutback.
He removed his shirt to display a message in tribute to a friend who passed away and sprinted to the corner flag, where he was pelted by cups and debris from the Hungarian ultras.
Declan Rice pretended to drink from one, capturing England’s spirit of defiance in the face of more discrimination and abuse.
Southgate’s players no longer seem shaken by the abuse, only determined to expose it and do their talking on the pitch.
Sterling’s every touch was jeered after his goal but he only raised his game further, crossing for Harry Kane to double England’s lead with a flying header.
Harry Maguire headed home the third, while Rice put the icing on the cake with a fourth – both poor pieces of goalkeeping from Hungary's Peter Gulacsi.
If Hungary did subject England's players to monkey chants, as reported, the fall out will be significant and it will raise serious questions about why they were allowed by Fifa to have a full stadium when they have been ordered to play their next two Uefa matches behind closed doors after homophobic and racism incidents at the Euros.
Racism inevitably felt like the talking point again, although the response of England and particularly Sterling was significant.
England suffer no hangover
During a stupefying first half, it was easy to wonder if England were suffering from a Euro 2020 hangover.
Against a well-organised Hungarian side, the visitors were too predictable and too cautious, as their patient midfield build-up repeatedly came to nothing.
But that only made their second-half display even more impressive.
Southgate’s side simply went up a gear and blew Hungary away in a devastating 15-minute spell when they scored three goals.
It was unerringly similar to their second-half display against Ukraine in the Euro 2020 quarter-final, even down to the eventual scoreline and scorers – Kane scored twice in Rome, while Maguire was also on the scoresheet.
Kane should have opened the scoring before Sterling struck, uncharacteristically firing a one-on-one straight at Gulacsi.
But once Sterling made the breakthrough, there was no looking back for Southgate’s side who showed this summer was no fluke.
This was England’s hardest qualifier on paper but they made it look like a breeze, justifying Southgate’s pre-match talk of wanting to win the World Cup in Qatar.
After a summer spent enjoying home comforts, the victory was particularly impressive for coming in a hostile atmosphere in front of nearly 60,000 supporters and with no away fans permitted.
That – and the behaviour of some Hungarian fans – will have made this win all the sweeter.
Kane shrugs off miss to get season started
Kane got his season up and running with England’s second goal on the night, a fine flying header from Sterling’s deflected cross.
Minutes before, Kane uncharacteristically missed a one-on-one with the goalkeeper, appearing to scuff his shot when clean through from Kyle Walker’s fine pass.
It was a miss that suggested Kane was still suffering from his delayed return to pre-season but, typically, he shrugged it off with a poacher’s finish.
After his disrupted and somewhat chaotic start to the season, this was a reminder of what Kane does best and should give him lift off for the campaign (two goals for Tottenham in the Europa Conference League notwithstanding).
For Manchester City fans, the sight of Kane linking up so well with Sterling might have left them with pangs of what could have been but it is Spurs who will benefit if he returns from the international break at full sharpness.