RAHEEM STERLING provided the breakthrough goal and the defining image of a tumultuous, and glorious, night in Budapest.
And yet England boss Gareth Southgate is adamant his winger remains underappreciated and fuelled by a constant need to prove himself.
As the Three Lions defied the thugs and racists to score an impressive 4-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Hungary on Thursday, Sterling was pictured, chest out, showered in beer, with plastic cups scattered around his feet, while he revealed a T-shirt tribute to a recently-deceased friend.
The Manchester City man had just netted his 16th goal in 24 England appearances, following on from a Euros campaign which was a personal triumph – with three goals and an assist as well as winning the penalty which defeated Denmark in the semi-final.
But while Southgate has total faith in Sterling, City boss Pep Guardiola has rarely started him in the club’s biggest matches this year, with Jack Grealish’s £100million move to the Etihad putting further pressure on his place.
And Southgate insisted: "I do think that Raheem doesn’t really get the recognition he deserves.
"He often goes under the radar and almost seems to have to continually prove himself.
"I laughed about it with him in the summer, so let’s keep hoping he has to keep proving himself in the way he did again against Hungary.
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"He has been consistently one of our most important players for years now.
"It is great that we haven’t got one star player who everybody ends up talking about, which is remarkable when you consider we have the likes of Harry Kane and Sterling and others in the group. I’ve got a very good relationship with Raheem, he knows what we think of him, he’s very comfortable in our environment.
"Of course there’s incredible competition for places at Manchester City, as well as with England. But for us, he has been consistently a player who has delivered and we have had complete faith in him.
"He has more than rewarded that faith in the goals he has scored. This summer he was outstanding."
England had struggled to break down a stubborn Hungary side for 55 minutes but, as so often in the summer, Sterling, 26, made the decisive contributions by grabbing the first goal and crossing for Kane to head home the second.
Sterling has now scored more England goals than David Beckham after netting his 18th in international football but widespread adulation still eludes him.
He went into the Euros with many doubting he was worth a place in Southgate’s starting line-up, especially after club chief Guardiola had benched him for City’s Champions League quarter-final and semi-final victories.
But Southgate has unswerving faith in a player who has been consistently outstanding for his country, ever since he ended a long international goal drought with a double against Spain in Seville three years ago.
Southgate said: "It is always about the collective but Raheem’s performances have been so important to us for such a long time.
"He really sets the tone with the way he works without the ball.
"When you have a creative talent like him, who is prepared to really commit to the team and weigh in with the goals and assists that he has over a long period of time now, he has been a fabulous player to work with. He is so important to what we do."
England return to Wembley tomorrow for the first time since the Euros, when they face Andorra.
And Southgate will make wholesale changes, allowing valued squad players from the summer, such as Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and Wolves skipper Conor Coady, to start against the whipping boys from the Pyrenees.
The England boss added: "Absolutely, we will make a lot of changes.
"But what will be nice is for those players who play on Sunday, it will be the first game there since the Euros and they will get a fantastic reception I am sure. They deserve that hugely.
"It is not about sentiment. We have a really strong squad and at this stage of the season players are still getting up to full fitness.
"To be able to rotate and use the depth is very important."
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