Pickford reshaping opinions of English goalies at World Cup

SAMARA, Russia — It was just about the only thing Jordan Pickford got wrong all game.

“It was a daft injury by myself,” the England goalkeeper recounted. “I went to punch the (ground) and ended up punching my knee and hurt my thumb. It was a bit of anger. But I’m a man, not a mouse. I’m fine and I’ll live another day, won’t I?”

Pickford left Samara Stadium on Saturday with a heavily bandaged left hand, a glass vase to commemorate a player-of-the-match performance in England’s World Cup quarterfinal win over Sweden, and with his new-found status as the pride of a nation.

The global reputation of English goalkeepers has taken a battering in recent years but Pickford is reshaping opinions with his standout performances in England’s surprising run to the World Cup semifinals in Russia.

Four days after being England’s penalty-shootout star against Colombia in the round of 16, the 24-year-old Pickford produced three brilliant, one-handed saves in a 2-0 win over Sweden to ensure his team ultimately enjoyed smooth progress to a last-four match against Croatia.

The only previous England goalkeepers to appear on such a stage were Gordon Banks — the World Cup winner from 1966 — and Peter Shilton, a veteran of 125 international caps who was 40 when he played in the 1990 World Cup semifinal loss to West Germany.

They are England’s two greatest goalkeepers. The way Pickford’s career is progressing, he could be joining that elite group.

Pickford is the most expensive British goalkeeper in history , after joining Premier League team Everton from Sunderland last year for a fee that could rise to 30 million pounds ($38.3 million), and the third costliest goalkeeper ever after Italy great Gianluigi Buffon and Brazil’s Ederson Moraes of Manchester City.

He is breaking the mould. Away from his agility and shot-stopping, no previous English goalkeeper has showed such composure and technical ability with his feet, a trait that England manager Gareth Southgate sees as vital for his team’s approach.

“Pickford, for me, is sort of the prototype of what a modern goalkeeper should be,” Southgate said.

Against Sweden, some of the clipped passes Pickford made to his wingbacks, Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young, were as good as any of England’s ball-playing midfielders could produce.

“To be able to play the way that I think we want to play going forward,” Southgate said, “we need goalkeepers of that ilk.”

Whatever happens in the semifinals or potentially the final, Pickford will return to England as one of the team’s star performers in Russia. The abiding memory will likely be an acrobatic save against Colombia that saw him tip Mateus Uribe’s dipping long-range effort onto the crossbar at full stretch.

It might even rival Banks’ storied save from Brazil great Pele in the 1970 World Cup.

Yet, more recently, English goalkeepers have been better known for make high-profile mistakes, too. There was Robert Green allowing a seemingly harmless shot from U.S. forward Clint Dempsey through his grasp and into the net in a World Cup group-stage game in 2010.

Joe Hart was at fault for the winning goal when tiny Iceland beat England 2-1 in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. In 2007, Scott Carson’s mistake, when he spilled a long-range effort into his own net in a decisive qualifying match, contributed to England failing to reach Euro 2008. England’s goalkeeper at the start of the 21st century, David James, was sometimes cruelly labeled “Calamity James” because of his frequent mistakes.

The main criticism aimed at Pickford at this World Cup was his failure to stop Adnan Januzaj’s curling shot that earned Belgium a 1-0 win over England in the group stage. The ball almost went over the head of Pickford, who dived to his right and attempted the save with his left hand.

Pickford stands at 6-foot-1 (1.85 metres) tall, which is relatively short for an elite goalkeeper, and Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said: “I would have caught it. He was too busy throwing his legs in the air.”

Pickford has shown since then that he makes up for his lack of height with agility and speed across his line. Just ask Swedish players Marcus Berg and Viktor Claesson.

England is just hoping Pickford’s thumb heals in time for Croatia.

A look at the other goalkeepers in the semifinals:

___

THIBAUT COURTOIS (BELGIUM)

Courtois defied Brazil with a series of stunning saves in the quarterfinals, with one off Neymar’s curling effort particularly standing out. The Chelsea goalkeeper may need to produce more of the same to keep out a French frontline containing Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann in the first semifinal match on Tuesday.

HUGO LLORIS (FRANCE)

Lloris came into the World Cup under some scrutiny after making more errors than usual for Tottenham in the Premier League last season, but he has been mainly solid all tournament and preserved France’s lead against Uruguay in the quarterfinals with a low, diving save to keep out a shot from Martin Caceres.

DANIJEL SUBASIC (CROATIA)

Subasic, who plays for Monaco in the French league, has been Croatia’s hero in successive penalty-shootout wins in the knockout stage, saving four spot kicks in total. He played on with a hamstring injury against Russia in the quarterfinals and might be in doubt to play England on Wednesday.

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