London (AFP) – England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has silenced his critics at Euro 2020, proving an impressive last line of defence for a side yet to concede a goal as they prepare for a quarter-final against Ukraine.
England’s first success against the Germans in a knockout match for 55 years was secured by late goals from Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane at Wembley on Tuesday.
But it was the much-maligned Pickford who laid the foundation for the 2-0 win that secured a last-eight clash in Rome on Saturday.
The 27-year-old saved Timo Werner’s first-half effort by taking up the perfect position to block his shot, then acrobatically tipped over Kai Havertz’s fierce strike soon after the interval.
And with England holding onto a one-goal lead, Pickford came off his line and narrowed the angle just enough to distract Thomas Mueller as the German missed a golden opportunity to equalise.
“I train hard all week to be the best I can be when called upon,” said Pickford. “I thought I made two good saves. I felt I was in the moment.
“The atmosphere… was amazing. That just gives us the desire on Saturday. It is another opportunity. We will be prepared for what they put up against us.”
Pickford’s heroics were a cathartic moment for the ‘keeper, who has been under pressure over the past year because of a series of costly blunders for Everton.
Carlo Ancelotti, then in charge of Everton, warned he must improve and dropped him for a Premier League match against Newcastle in November.
Pickford’s judgement off the field was also questioned after he was involved in a street brawl when his fiancee was abused during a night out in his hometown of Sunderland in 2019.
When Burnley’s Nick Pope started all three World Cup qualifiers in March, it seemed Pickford might struggle to regain his England place as he battled with an abdominal muscle injury.
But he finished the season in better form and Pope was eventually ruled out of the European Championship due to injury.
With England boss Gareth Southgate repeatedly expressing confidence in Pickford as his number one, the Everton star has erased his careless mistakes.
“The goalkeeping number one spot for England is the most scrutinised position in world football,” said England defender Harry Maguire.
“We have a magnificent ‘keeper behind us. Every time he has put on the shirt for England he has been magnificent.”
– ‘More confident’ –
Pickford has been immaculate so far in the tournament, keeping four successive clean sheets to repay Southgate’s faith and underline his reputation as a big-game player.
He was England’s hero at the 2018 World Cup when his save from Carlos Bacca’s penalty helped win a last-16 shoot-out against Colombia.
Not only did Pickford play a key role in England ending their shoot-out jinx, he also starred when they defeated Switzerland on penalties in the 2019 Nations League third-place play-off.
Pickford fired past Yann Sommer to score one of England’s spot-kicks before saving Josip Drmic’s penalty.
His erratic club form has seemingly not dented his confidence and his demonstrative personality has made him one of England’s leaders at the Euro.
“I like Pickford because of his composure,” former England defender Rio Ferdinand said.
“That’s something that has been a criticism in an Everton shirt but in an England shirt this fella seems to grow. He’s more confident, he controls situations.”
Loudly berating England defenders when they have not met his expectations, Pickford sets his standards high.
“Keep working hard and just doing everything right, not cutting corners, giving myself the opportunity when it comes to match day to be fully prepared, fully focused,” he said.
“Just being the best Jordan Pickford I can be — that’s all I can do.”
Gordon Banks is regarded as England’s greatest goalkeeper after his role in their 1966 World Cup triumph.
Pickford might find himself mentioned in the same breath if England seize their chance to win a tournament that could complete his rise from liability to legend.
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