'An unbelievable experience' - Declan Rice's full England debut, a year on
Declan Rice added another ‘pinch yourself’ moment to an already growing list when Gareth Southgate handed him his first start in the famous white shirt of England on this day exactly a year ago.
Rice, who at 20 became West Ham United’s youngest England starter in more than two decades, shone at the base of the Three Lions’ midfield as they secured a 5-1 UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying win in Montenegro.
Following 5-0 demolition of Czech Republic at Wembley the preceding Friday, in which Rice made his debut from the bench, the West Ham man played the 90 minutes as they put in another five-star performance in Podgorica.
It capped a stellar week for the youngster, who could hardly contain his delight when interviewed at the final whistle.
I loved every minute of it. From the start, singing the national anthem. You just can’t describe it
He said: “To get the win, 5-1; to get the start - I’ve loved every minute of it. I have been training well and obviously with Eric Dier’s injury as well that gave me that chance.
“I loved every minute of it. From the start, singing the national anthem. You just can’t describe it.
“I knew on Sunday [that I was going to start]. The game face was on and I knew I had to be focused on what lie ahead.
“I played the same role as I do at West Ham. I am not one of those who goes running around everywhere. I sit in front of the back four, make my tackles, make my interceptions and keep it easy and pop the ball off. It is simple but effective.
“At times, they were hard to break down and it was frustrating. We had to just keep moving it side to side and we managed to break them down in the end.”
Rice, of course, went on to help England qualifying automatically for the European Championship finals, which have now been postponed until the summer of 2021 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The midfielder also appeared for Southgate's side at the 2019 UEFA Nations League finals, starting the semi-final defeat by the Netherlands, and now has seven caps to his name.
However, whatever he goes on to achieve for his country, Rice will never forget earning those first two caps in an England shirt a year ago this week.
He added: “It’s been an unbelievable experience. Ten goals scored, one goal conceded. To be playing with the players I played with, it is a dream come true.
“Now we are part of a really good group. It is really exciting with Gareth, Steve Holland, the backroom staff – everyone is so professional, so well-drilled, you see that on the pitch. We have got a way we want to play and we are going to execute it."