RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Four years ago, Raheem Sterling was watching the World Cup eating pizza with his friends. Now, the 19-year-old Liverpool winger is the pick of the skilful newcomers giving England hope after its opening loss to Italy.
Sterling has transferred his talents seamlessly from the Premier League to the international arena. Deployed as the playmaker by Roy Hodgson, Sterling took on established opponents without fear, withstanding the heat and humidity in Manaus to zip across the pitch dribbling through the Italian defense.
”For a young player like me to obviously play in such a big tournament, when (Hodgson) told me I was starting I was a bit nervous,” Sterling said Tuesday. ”I thought to myself it was a great opportunity for me to go out there and show the footballing world what I can do.”
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But personal plaudits seemed inconsequential to the Londoner, who didn’t want to dwell on the 2-1 defeat in which his vision was exemplified by opening up the Italian defense in the leadup to Daniel Sturridge’s goal.
”I was in a bit of a mood after the match, I wasn’t really replying to anyone,” Sterling said, addressing reporters for the first time since his World Cup debut. ”Obviously replied to my mum and my sister but then after a couple of days after it sank in I replied to everyone.”
Losing admirably won’t do again on Thursday against Uruguay, which opened Group D with a more demoralizing collapse to Costa Rica.
”Hopefully over the game (I) showed some glimpses and helped my team,” Sterling recalled of the Italy defeat. ”It was unlucky that we didn’t get the win, but I thought we played some good stuff at times and definitely on Thursday we will be going at it again.”
The Jamaica-born Sterling, who grew up in London near Wembley Stadium, is cautious about expressing a preference to starting in the middle or in his more familiar club position on the wing, instead highlighting his versatility.
”Anywhere in the attacking position is my favorite position, and trying to help the team with a goal or an assist,” he said. ”As a young player you have to really learn and try to educate yourself in different positions every day in training and it’s something I’m willing to do.”
He received advice before the game from Wayne Rooney, who burst onto the international scene a decade ago as England’s teenage star at the 2004 European Championship.
”Express yourself and enjoy the game and not think too much about what’s going on,” Sterling recalled Rooney telling him.
While Rooney comes under public scrutiny over his failure to score across three World Cups, the 28-year-old striker is still someone the young players in the England squad study for tips.
”Some of the stuff he does with the ball, you try to take little clips out of his play and try to really learn from that,” Sterling said. ”He is a world-class player. I’ve watched him. He is someone I looked up to, so to have trained with him at this camp has been a real honor, really.”
The striker Sterling will come up against in Thursday’s game is more familiar to him than Rooney: Liverpool teammate Luis Suarez.
”I’d rather not see him on the pitch, really,” Sterling said. ”He is a great player, but I don’t think we really need to talk too much of his qualities because we all know what he can do.
”All the lads have played against him know what he is about. We know he has scored some spectacular goals and we will do our best to keep him at bay.”
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris