Samara (Russia) (AFP) – Harry Maguire travelled to watch England as a fan at Euro 2016, but two years later he is a pillar of the defence as the country prepares for its first World Cup semi-final in 28 years.

After celebrating Hull’s 2015-16 promotion to the Premier League, Maguire and a group of friends made the trip to France to see England’s 0-0 group-stage draw with Slovakia.

Those same friends are now out in Russia, but this time the 25-year-old Maguire is playing a crucial role in England’s improbable World Cup quest. 

It has been an amazing ascent for the Sheffield-born defender, who only made his England debut in a 1-0 qualifying victory over Lithuania in October. 

The 2016-17 campaign was Maguire’s first season as an established player at the top level, and although Hull were condemned to relegation from the Premier League, his performances persuaded Leicester to sign him on a five-year deal.

It proved a shrewd move as the powerfully built Maguire, who stands 1.94 metres (six feet four inches) tall, played every single minute of the Premier League during his debut season with the Foxes.

He was rewarded with two Leicester player of the year awards — from the players and the fans — but his rise to unlikely World Cup hero would not have been possible without Gareth Southgate.

The England manager showed a great deal of faith in Maguire as he set about forging a new team identity after taking over from Sam Allardyce in 2016.

“When I was watching him during the season I was so keen that he stayed fit because I thought this was a stage I was certain he could show he could play at,” Southgate said after Maguire scored his first international goal in the 2-0 quarter-final win over Sweden. 

“I’m not sure he’s always believed that. His first game in (Lithuania) he talked about just being desperate not to make a mistake.” 

– ‘Chilled out’ –

Southgate’s decision to use a back three, as they did in reaching the semi-finals at Euro 96 and the 1990 World Cup, has played into Maguire’s favour.

As a youngster he spent much of his time patrolling midfield before transitioning to centre-back in his mid-teens, and those past experiences are serving Maguire well. 

“I think he’s a super-talented player,” said Southgate. 

“His use of the ball is as good as any centre-back in the tournament, so hopefully he’s gaining belief from the performances at this level.”

Maguire has started four of England’s five matches — coming on as a half-time substitute in the loss to Belgium — projecting an air of confidence as the stakes increase.

“I’m quite laid back, quite chilled out so I’ve come across like that and I try to take it onto the pitch as well,” Maguire told the England FA’s YouTube channel.

“It’s great to have a manager who’s shown great faith in me so that gives me confidence as well.”

Former England defender Rio Ferdinand, a member of three World Cup squads, called Maguire “indispensable” going into the last-four clash with Croatia. 

“He’s a man-mountain, but with the ball at his feet he’s graceful as well,” Ferdinand told the BBC.

“Against Sweden he became someone who is an integral member of this team, someone who is indispensable at the moment.”

Two years after a humiliating last-16 exit to Iceland, England’s new band of brothers are just two wins away from achieving football immortality.

It’s a prospect that has not really sunk in yet.

“It’s been a remarkable two years — the rise I’ve had in those two years is quite crazy,” Maguire admitted.