Eric Dier feared never playing for England again before World Cup call-up
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There are some footballers who regard a silver medal with revulsion. As soon as it is placed around their necks it is ripped off and either discarded in the bottom of a kit bag or unceremoniously binned.
For Jordan Pickford the opposite applies with his runners-up gong from the Euros. It has acted as a driving inspiration. On show at his parents’ house, the glint of silver has been a reminder of the fantastical journey England went on in their last major tournament but also as a signpost towards the road still left to travel; the road to gold in Qatar.
“I think it is always good to have a look at. I’m positive about it, not negative,” said Pickford. “Other players don’t really like them but I think of it as a progression. You have got the runners-up medal but there is a hunger to want to go get the winners’ medal. You know what it takes to get to the final, now what’s the next step?
“It’s what football is all about – winning. That is what we are in this tournament to do. The last two tournaments we didn’t get over the finish line but we’ve made massive strides as a nation and as a group of players. The World Cup comes around every four years, so there’s an opportunity for us. It’s an opportunity that we can hopefully grab with both hands.”
Pickford’s hands were safe as houses last summer as England kept five clean sheets on their road to the final. The England goalkeeper was also a rock in the semi-final push at the last World Cup in Russia four years ago. Tournament football, it seems, brings out the best in him.
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“I think every time I pull on an England shirt I play well. The buzz for me in representing your country is massive. Every time I pull that shirt on I’m really proud. But tournament football the spotlight is on you constantly and I feel like I will step up to the plate when called upon,” said the 28-year-old.
“I’ve done really well in the last tournaments and hopefully I will go again in another tournament and do really well and help the team.” Pickford’s expectation, on the basis of a meeting for the teams with the referees at the start of the week, is that there will be a clampdown on the dead ball wrestling matches in the penalty area and more protection for the ‘keepers’ union when it comes to blocking off.
“I think they are a bit stricter on the set-pieces and defending in the box,” he said. “If I’ve got three around me, that will be good!” The Everton ‘keeper has done his homework on the Iranian dangermen, mentally circling Porto’s Mehdi Taremi and Bayer Leverkusen’s Sardar Azmoun, but he has no other thoughts than a launchpad victory for England on Monday night.
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“They are going to be a tough team but we are going to be ready and prepared to win the game,” he said. “I think we’ve come a long way as a nation, especially from Russia, where we were written off a bit early doors and got to the semis. We took that momentum into the Euros and we got to the final of that.
“We’ve tasted defeat in both of them but we know what it takes to get that far. We know how tough it is to win the World Cup but our aim is to win the tournament. We’ve got the ability and mental strength in the team. All we want to do is do our best and hopefully make the nation proud.”
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