Chantilly (France) (AFP) – England’s under-fire goalkeeper Joe Hart is backing the Three Lions to to prove critics of their goalless draw with Slovakia wrong in the Euro 2016 knock-out phase.
Hart acknowledged the “tension” caused by England’s second draw which left the side waiting to meet the Group F runners-up — either Iceland, Portugal, Hungary or Austria — in Nice on Monday in the last 16.
The Three Lions arrived at the European championship finals among the favourites after winning all 10 of their qualifying games.
But having finished second in Group B behind Wales, Roy Hodgson’s England has been hammered back home for failing to turn any of their 29 shots into goals in Monday’s goalless draw with Slovakia.
Hart said the squad must suck up the attacks and focus on reaching the quarter-finals.
“It’s going to create tension and stories have got to be written, but we’ve got to remain focused,” said 29-year-old Manchester City goalkeeper.
“We’ve got a job in hand and that’s what’s important to us.
“The questions come from the outside, not the inside.
“We are very confident of what we’ve got in the group.
“We’re united, together and we want to go as far as we can.”
Following the Slovakia draw, several British newspapers branded Hodgson’s side “second rate” and “Toothless Lions” for their lack of finishing.
Hart has been slammed on social media after each of England’s performances in France.
He also could only stand and watch as Russia’s Vasili Berezutski headed in a 92nd-minute equaliser in the 1-1 opening draw with Russia.
– Fresh legs and quality –
More flak came after Gareth Bale’s free-kick beat him in the 2-1 win over Wales. Critics said Hart had been out of place.
He irked England fans further after the Slovakia draw by saying he “hasn’t had anything to do in the whole tournament to be honest”.
“It’s football and I’m a goalkeeper: if the ball goes in, I’m going to get looked at,” said Hart.
Hodgson was heavily criticised for making six changes against Slovakia, but Hart rejected the notion that the England boss gambled.
“We have a 23-man squad and you could pick anyone,” said the England shot-stopper.
“Everyone deserves to be in the team on merit.
“To go far in the tournament you need fresh legs – and when you’ve got the quality that we’ve got then it was the right decision.
“I would love to be standing here having won 2-0 and it would look an even better decision, but at the end of it, we’ll be ready for the next game.”
Hart takes heart from England’s performances so far.
“We are going to look to build on three good performances. Result-wise they’ve not been great, but performance-wise I don’t think anyone will be looking forward to playing us,” he said.
“But there’s no point talking about ifs and buts – we’ve finished second.
“It’s Monday in Nice and we’re going to be ready for it.”
Like his manager before him, Hart says it is just a matter of time before England find their finishing.
“We’ve come up against some really resilient defending, but everyone is well aware that there’s going to be a game where we do start getting what we deserve,” said Hart.
“And that’s going to be a good day.”
With France lurking as potential quarter-final opponents, should both teams win their last 16 matches, Hart is relishing the possibility of facing a side who wants to attack.
“It depends. It will be nice because we’ll get more room but at the same time it brings more danger,” said the 29-year-old.
“We’re well drilled and well balanced in what we do, we feel good in defence and looking forward to the next game.”
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