GARETH SOUTHGATE is delighted his England side ‘made the country happy’ as they beat Croatia at Wembley yesterday to win their opening game of Euro 2020.

Southgate watched his players become the first England team to win their opening game at a European Championships as Raheem Sterling’s second-half strike saw off a Croatian team that had proved their undoing in the semi-finals of the last World Cup in Russia.

A crowd of more than 22,000 celebrated wildly inside Wembley, and the euphoric scenes were repeated in parks, gardens and front rooms up and down the country.

After a difficult year for everybody, Southgate is pleased to have been able to put some smiles on England supporters’ faces, and while he is refusing to get too carried away over just one win, he was thrilled with the performance of his young team.

“It feels great to have been able to send the fans home happy, and to have fans up and down the country happy, that’s very special,” said the England boss. “There were some young, inexperienced players, and it was a big occasion against a big team on a sweltering hot day, so there was every reason to look nervous at the start, but they didn’t.

“With and without the ball, they carried out what we wanted to do in terms of pressing brilliantly. It was always going to be a game of few clear-cut chances, but I thought we looked the biggest threat throughout.

“We have opportunities to be the first to do things. Today was the first win in an opening game, and that’s something they’ve been able to do that no other team has done.

“We’re focusing on where we want to go as a group now. It’s for everybody else to get excited and throw their beer around and do whatever they want – that’s brilliant to be able to give that joy to people. But for us, we’re on to the next and preparing for a really tough game on Friday (against Scotland).”

Southgate was especially pleased with the performance of Kalvin Phillips, with the Leeds United midfielder excelling against a Croatian side boasting superstar playmaker Luka Modric.

Phillips only made his first Premier League appearance at the start of last season, but Southgate was considering plucking him from the Championship to select him for last summer’s Euros, had the tournament not been rescheduled because of Covid.

As it is, the 25-year-old Yorkshireman has enjoyed a breakthrough season with Leeds, and now looks like making a considerable mark at international level too.

“We watched him a lot the season before last in the Championship and were going to bring him into the squad ahead of the Euros a year ago,” said Southgate. “He’s now had a season of Premier League football, and he’s technically good, and we also knew the athleticism in midfield was going to be important.

“We had to get tight to their midfield players and Mason, Kalvin and Declan did that really well. They did a lot of the job for the defence to limit the opportunities.

“Kalvin is a fabulous boy to work with, so unassuming, and I thought his performance was outstanding, There were two first-half passes behind their defence that were top level and the contribution for the goal summed his day up really.”

Phillips’ second-half through ball enabled Sterling to score the only goal of the game, with the Manchester City forward claiming his first tournament goal as he swept home a first-time strike.

“He’s been a reliable performer for us for a long time, and his goals record in the last two-and-a-half years, with us and his club, is excellent,” said Southgate. “Even this year, when people have been saying he’s not hit the heights, he’s still one in three for his club.

“We can’t have all the burden of scoring on Harry’s shoulders – you’ve got to have players in those wide positions and in midfield who can chip in as well.

“I thought he looked a threat the whole day and I’m delighted for him. It’s quite a few tournament matches without scoring ahead of today’s game, but he looked a threat right from the start. He got in from a throw-in at the start for the shot of Phil’s (Foden) that hit the post, and I thought that set the tone for him.”