England have delivered an efficient but hardly scintillating display to beat the Czech Republic 1-0 and advance to the European Championship last 16 as Group D winners.
The Czechs are also through to the knockout stage as one of the best third-placed teams.
Sterling scored his and England's second goal of the competition in the 12th minute but the initial injection of pace, intensity and crowd-pleasing excitement brought by Jack Grealish and teenager Bukayo Saka gradually dissipated as the game petered out into an utterly forgettable second half.
England will return to Wembley on Tuesday to face the runners up from Group E - likely to be France, Germany or Portugal - with Sterling up for any challenge.
"At some point you are going to have to face the best teams, that's the whole point of being in the tournament which is to challenge yourself," he told ITV.
"Our objective from the beginning was to win the group. It's tournament football and things are going to be difficult at times but we need to keep doing what we're doing as a team which is being solid and taking our chances when we can."
The Czechs will have to wait to find out who they play next after they were dislodged from second place by Croatia, who beat Scotland 3-1.
Croatia will play the Group E runners up - Sweden, Slovakia, Spain or Poland - in Copenhagen on Monday.
With both England and the Czechs already assured of progress and with the nagging question of whether second place was a better option than winning the group hanging over the game, it hardly added up to a white knuckle, winner takes all occasion at Wembley.
That changed, however as, for the third successive game, England struck a post early on, this time it was Sterling who lifted the ball past advancing goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik with two minutes on the clock.
Ten minutes later Sterling hit the target with a close-range header from a delicious floated cross by Grealish after a driving run by Saka had splintered the Czech rearguard.
Making his first appearance of the tournament, the 19-year-old wide man showed a willingness to run with the ball and, with Grealish also a constant threat, the hosts looked much more threatening at times.
The Czechs were neat and tidy without carrying a huge amount of penalty box threat.
Substitute Jordan Henderson thought he had scored his first goal for England five minutes from time after a scramble, only to see it ruled out for offside.
There remains plenty for England to improve on but they reacted well to a disrupted build-up that saw Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell forced into isolation - in the fallout to their recent interaction with Scotland's Billy Gilmour, who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Australian Associated Press