Gareth Southgate hailed Raheem Sterling for keeping his cool in Iceland to spare England from freezing in their Nations League opener.

Sterling stepped up to convert the winning spot kick on 89 minutes as the Three Lions made it a winning but unconvincing start to the League A, Group 2 campaign.

The hosts still had a chance to salvage a draw but missed a penalty of their own in injury time when Birkir Bjarnason failed to hit the target - after England had been reduced to 10 men following Kyle Walker's sending off.

Manchester City ace Sterling won the penalty and took it himself in the absence of captain Harry Kane, who had been substituted earlier.

Sterling turned home England's winning goal from the penalty spot

Sterling's goal was his 13th in all competitions for England and he's now had a hand in 17 goals in his last 12 appearances for the Three Lions (11 goals, 6 assists).

The 25-year-old plundered 35 goals for club and country last season and Southgate believes he has taken his game to another level to cement his status as a world star.

Southgate said: "I can't speak highly enough of him really. It would have been very easy to have another few days on the beach, not report in and get himself right for his club at the beginning of the season.

"His mentality the whole week has been exceptional. Desperate to be here, desperate to play, desperate to stay on, I thought he carried the fight when we went down to 10 men.

Sterling's shot bounced off the arm of Ingason to win the penalty for England

"He took the responsibility of the penalty, and I thought it was outstanding character throughout. His desire to win and succeed is exceptional.

"He's just been relentless. His hunger to score, his hunger to win things, his hunger to drive himself, you really can't underestimate it. It has a massive impact on everybody around him and he really has taken his game to another level."

The same cannot be said of the rest of Sterling's team-mates in the wake of this unforgettable game.

All those brave enough to watch a replay need do is fast forward to the last two minutes of normal time, when this lifeless affair burst into action.

Bjarnason's penalty was sent over the bar in stoppage time

This was England's first game since November due to the impact of Covid-19 - and their rustiness in Reykjavik was plain to see.

Iceland were well organised and determined not to lose, while the Three Lions struggled to find a way to win until the duel of the penalties went in their favour at the death.

Southgate is not prepared to judge his stars on their first game in 10 months, but is keen to see more energy from them in tomorrow's clash with Denmark in Copenhagen.

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He is expected to ring the changes but admits he is under no pressure from clubs to rest anyone.

He added: "Energy will be key and I think you saw through the game that match sharpness through all of our players, it's impossible to expect them to be at their best, given not only the time since their last competitive games, but also the shortage of training they've had.

"That little bit of quality just wasn't there. The clubs have been really understanding. Their welfare is as important to us as it is to the clubs so now we have just got to assess that for Tuesday and pick what we can to get the result."