GUIMARAES (Portugal) • Raheem Sterling is set to lead England out for the first time at today's Nations League semi-final against the Netherlands.
The Manchester City forward will be handed the honour as a reward for a half-century of appearances, casting doubt over whether Champions League finalists Harry Kane, who is the regular skipper, and Jordan Henderson will start.
The pair are among seven players in Gareth Southgate's 23-man team who reported for duty only this week after their involvement in Madrid last Saturday.
While the England manager may be tempted to select players with whom he has trained more extensively over the past few weeks for the encounter with Ronald Koeman's men, Sterling is considered to be one of the first names on his team sheet.
The former Middlesbrough boss has elevated him into his core "leadership group" in recent times and has spoken of his qualities.
He said of the 24-year-old in March: "When you speak to other young players, he's one of the first they speak about making them feel really comfortable in the environment.
"We've had three or four players captaining the team, and Raheem is developing lots of the qualities those guys have."
Although Southgate has stipulated he would have no qualms about throwing Kane into the fray, the Tottenham striker still lacks match fitness. He started in their 2-0 Champions League final loss to Liverpool after not playing since early April following ankle ligament damage.
There are alternative options, however, with a prospective front three of Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Sterling, and a midfield trio of Fabian Delph, Declan Rice and Ross Barkley.
Calling Sterling "an amazing young man", Delph feels the recognition his City teammate is getting is fully deserved and there is more to come.
He added: "I still believe he's operating at about 80 per cent. So if he can push himself a bit more, which I know he will because his mindset is very good, the sky's the limit in the next couple of years."
This Nations League tournament in Portugal presents England a real chance of silverware for the first time since Le Tournoi in 1997, but in their way stand a resurgent Dutch side.
When you speak to other young players, he's one of the first they speak about making them feel really comfortable in the environment. We've had three or four players captaining the team, and Raheem is developing lots of the qualities those guys have.
GARETH SOUTHGATE, England coach, on Raheem Sterling's qualities.
The Oranje have had a lean few years after failing to make it to last year's World Cup and Euro 2016, but with a golden crop of young players, there are few fears they will miss out for a third consecutive major tournament.
The Netherlands have already shown their promise in knocking out world champions France and Germany to make the last four of the Nations League.
There were also as many Dutch players as English players (two) in Liverpool's starting XI as they lifted their sixth European Cup and Koeman is confident he can keep Southgate's men at bay as "we have the best centre defenders with Matthijs de Ligt and Virgil van Dijk".
The former Everton boss said: "In the last few years, yes, it is the best generation, but they are just starting. We are on a good way back to where we would like to stay as a country."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN