A new breed of goal­tender

Pick­ford re­shap­ing opin­ions of English goalies at World Cup

Kenora Daily Miner and News - - SPORTS - STEVE DOUGLAS

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 quar­ter-fi­nal 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, one­handed 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 US$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 lon­grange 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 high­pro­file 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 group­stage 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 la­belled “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, 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.

FRAN­CISCO SECO/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Eng­land goal­keeper Jor­dan Pick­ford ges­tures dur­ing the quar­ter­fi­nal match be­tween Swe­den and Eng­land at the 2018 soc­cer World Cup, in the Sa­mara Arena, in Sa­mara, Rus­sia, on Satur­day.

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