England manager Gareth Southgate included Raheem Sterling in his team to face Nigeria after the player had been in the public eye for the last week following two controversies on the eve of the World Cup.
The Harlesden-raised Manchester City star came in for criticism after having a gun tattoo on his right leg before it was revealed he arrived a day late for the England training camp.
Sterling’s inclusion in the World Cup warm-up match showed Southgate’s faith in the forward, who repaid him with a lively display – but it was not without more controversy.
The social media response towards Sterling in the last week has been largely supportive and – with the spotlight firmly on him at Wembley – it was a similar reaction.
His name was cheered by the home fans and, while he was jeered by the Nigeria supporters, he was not on his own in that aspect.
Those jeers did intensify, however, when he was booked for a clear dive while looking to win a second-half penalty – an incident likely to see him come in for more stick in the coming days.
Sterling’s finishing vastly improved at Manchester City in the last year but it remains to be seen if that is natural development or the fact Pep Guardiola’s side created so many chances to begin with.
He lifted an early chance wide of goal as he looked to add to his two previous international strikes.
Sterling later broke the offside trap but could not find a colleague with a low cross before firing narrowly over when picked out by Jesse Lingard towards the end of the first half.
Sterling always puts in a shift and his running caused problems for the Nigeria defence, particularly in the first half when he had the Super Eagles chasing shadows on a couple of occasions.
He was taken off for Marcus Rashford late on having grafted to little success after the interval.
Lingard said on Friday that the England squad had reassured Sterling following the media outcry over his tattoo.
He looked to repay that by providing for his team-mates at Wembley and a great interchange with Ashley Young almost presented the Manchester United man with a goal.
Sterling also laid on Harry Kane’s goal, a strike which proved to be the match winner, and played his part when required.
An important response
Sterling is all-but a confirmed starter for Southgate in England’s World Cup opener against Tunisia and he showed that he can do his talking on the pitch.
He needs to bring his City finishing to the international stage to add to his measly goal return and the silly dive in the second half will be something Southgate will not want to see moving forward.
Sterling clearly has the support of the majority of the football-watching public and he will be hoping to repay that in kind over the coming month.