ENGLAND won their first game of a European Championship for the first time in 10 years, rewarding Gareth Southgate for a handful of brave selection decisions.

Many a brow was furrowed as Raheem Sterling was picked ahead of Jack Grealish, Tyrone Mings named in the centre of defence, Kieran Trippier shifted to left-back, or Kalvin Phillips added to a midfield three alongside Declan Rice and Mason Mount.

The plan worked to a tee, however, as Croatia simply wilted in the Wembley heat and Sterling provided England with a worthy second-half winner, created by Leeds United’s superb midfielder, Phillips.

For whatever reason, Sterling was asked if he had justified his selection in a team which had kept the World Cup finalists to one half-chance in 90 minutes of football.

He laughed off the question, as well he might. Sterling’s goal return for Manchester City had not been plentiful in the lead up to the tournament but his pace and movement was exactly what England needed on the day, against a defence which seemed slow to react in the blazing temperatures.

It was a disrespectful thing to ask at the time – and credit to Sterling for simply making his point by stopping to smile, shake it off, and move on to the next question.

Back at Euro 96, folk scoffed at Alan Shearer’s goal return for his county. A 12-game drought was ended in a dire opening game against Switzerland, after which a memorable summer unfolded.

Sterling’s winner was due in no small part to the composure and accuracy of Phillips, who worked harder than anyone else on the pitch, showing more attacking nous than his reputation perhaps suggests.

Declan Rice’s discipline in the middle of the park allowed both Phillips and Mason Mount to venture forward. Twenty minutes into the game, Croatia looked like they would buckle under pressure but an experienced side managed to hold firm for just under an hour, living on their nerves as Phil Foden’s shot bounced off the inside of the post, before the breakthrough finally arrived.

Mings did everything he needed to do at centre-half. He may have bigger challenges further down the line, more mobile strikers to handle, but the Villa centre-half showed exactly the kind of calm head needed on the day.

Trippier was added on the left at Ben Chilwell or Luke Shaw’s expense, another bold move and perhaps the only one that may force Southgate into a rethink before Friday’s high-pressure group game against Scotland.

Players dealt well with the conditions, with the pressure of an opening group game. The exciting thing for England fans, however, is that Southgate can easily shuffle his options – particularly in attack – to take a completely different approach against different opponents.

Success against Croatia was built on closing down space in midfield, not allowing Luka Modric, Matteo Kovacic or Marcelo Brozovic a second in the sun to look up and pick out a team-mate. There were a few moments when the 35-year-old Modric was able to display his superb touch and vision – but by that stage he had retreated deep into positions which mattered little.

Before we retreat into well-worn territory and proclaim that football is coming home, however, let us remember this was a Croatia side whose key components are starting to look their age.

Southgate will be delighted that Mings, Trippier, Sterling, Phillips et al responded to scrutiny with such a big performance but he should also know a different blend might be necessary to win the next two games, and beyond.

More than anything, however, he will be pleased that England negotiated their opening group game with comparative ease - dare I say, almost relaxation. Surely the rest of the tournament will be tougher than this?