Harry Kane hailed England’s tournament debutants as the Three Lions finally won the opening game of a European Championship with victory over Croatia on Sunday.
Raheem Sterling’s second-half strike was enough to secure England a deserved 1-0 win against the team who had knocked them out of the World Cup at the semi-final stage three years ago.
Half of the outfield players selected by Gareth Southgate had never represented their country in a senior international tournament but they all stood out as England won their opening game at a Euros for the first time in their history.
Phil Foden hit the post early on while Mason Mount, Declan Rice and Tyrone Mings also put in good showings.
But it was the performance of Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips which caught the eye, the 25-year-old capping a fine display by laying on Sterling’s match-winner.
Asked about Phillips, Kane was quick to praise all of the tournament newcomers: “He has been brilliant.
“He has just come off the back of a shoulder injury as well, he has been good in training and working hard to be fit for the first game.
“Obviously he was selected and did a fantastic job and there were a few guys out there playing their first game for England in a major tournament and they did their country proud.”
Southgate’s selection led to plenty of raised eyebrows among supporters, with Kieran Trippier’s inclusion at left-back, the omission of Jack Grealish from the starting XI and both Ben Chilwell and Jadon Sancho missing out on the squad being questioned.
Picking Sterling was another selection which saw Southgate criticised by some on social media but Kane backed his boss and said every player will have to play their part if England are to go far in the competition.
“That is why he is doing his job and the fans are debating – that is part of football,” he told beIN Sports.
“We have got a great squad and you can understand everyone has got their own opinions on who should play but we had a great team performance and it is important we use the whole squad throughout the tournament, it isn’t going to be the same XI every week.”
Kane was one of the quietest players on the pitch before he was replaced by Jude Bellingham late on, often having to drop deep to be involved in the game.
It is something the Tottenham striker did plenty of for his club in the past year and he insists he has no problem doing so – even if it takes away from his own goal threat.
“It has always been a part of my game,” he added.
“Sometimes when I drop deep it allows space for the wingers or the midfielders to run in behind so it is always about doing my bit for the team, if it means dropping deep, I will drop deep. If it means staying high, I will stay high.
“We have got fantastic players on the ball and fantastic players in behind, you saw that with Raheem’s goal. We had a couple of runners and he got in and finished nicely.
“(It is) a great start, we know we have got a long way to go still but you always want to start with a win. It is a great building block for the rest of the tournament.”