Raheem Sterling is set to win a shock recall for England ahead of their last-16 Euro 2016 clash with Iceland on Monday night (27 June). The 21-year-old winger has flattered to deceive at the tournament so far, and endured fierce criticism for his lacklustre performance in the opening 1-1 draw against Russia.
Roy Hodgson kept faith in Sterling for the subsequent victory over Wales, but he was replaced at half-time by match-winner Daniel Sturridge after missing a glorious early chance to put his side ahead. The former Liverpool speedster, was then dropped for the frustrating goalless draw with Slovakia that saw England progress as runners-up in Group B and land in the most difficult half of the draw alongside Germany, Italy, Spain and hosts France.
Despite his growing unpopularity, however, widespread press reports – including from The Mirror – suggest that he will be restored to the starting XI against Iceland in Nice. Former Anfield teammate Adam Lallana is expected to make way despite proving one of his country's most impressive performers at Euro 2016 to date.
Widespread condemnation of Sterling's performances have also led to concerns regarding his confidence, with new City boss Pep Guardiola said to have made contact last week in order to provide reassurances that he was a "big part" of his plans at the Etihad Stadium. A report from The Times on Thursday (23 June) claimed that the player, who represents the only genuine wide threat in England's current squad, had been advised to spend less time on social media amid a personal feeling that he had been made into a scapegoat.
Sterling even dubbed himself as "The Hated One" on Instagram after that draw with Russia in Marseille, although Wayne Rooney insists that there are no issues with his emotional state or work ethic on the training pitch.
"For me, what I've seen, his state of mind is fine," the captain was quoted as saying by BT at his pre-match press conference yesterday (26 June). "He's been normal around the camp. What we've seen on the training pitch from Raheem, he's been fantastic: sharp, taking players on, scoring goals.
"There's no issue with Raheem at all. His attitude isn't questioned. He stays behind after training doing what he does normally. He's a huge asset to us as a team, a fantastic player and one who can turn the game in a split-second. If anyone is questioning his attitude or state of mind, they'd be mistaken in having that judgement."