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England’s Surprise World Cup Stars

England’s Surprise World Cup Stars

To the surprise and joy, of many, England have made it through to the World Cup semi-finals for only the third time ever and the first time for 28 years.

Going into the tournament there were low expectations of the England squad, with many claiming that they were too young and inexperienced to survive in the tournament. It is true that the squad does not have many of the academy-raised household names of previous years; there is no David Beckham or Wayne Rooney. Instead, there is a group of players who have worked their way up through the ranks and played for teams such as Darlington, Alfreton, Halifax, Welling and Aldershot.

The biggest name in the squad is undoubtedly Harry Kane; however, for once the Golden Boot contender didn’t score on Saturday. Nonetheless, after the game he said, “I thought we were fantastic. We faced the long ball, different to what we have faced before and we’re buzzing with the result. We know there is a big game ahead with the semi-final but we are feeling good and we’re confident. We just have to go again. We are enjoying it and we’ve got keep doing what we are doing and make the country proud.”

There have been many standout moments, but some players have truly shone. On Saturday, Harry Maguire scored the first goal, goalkeeper Jordan Pickford made three fantastic saves and was named man of the match, and Kieran Trippier was once again outstanding.

Those three players were not even in the squad when qualifying for the tournament began, and they were all uncapped in competitive games until October. Nonetheless, after Saturday’s performance, they deserve a closer look.

Kieran Trippier

Kieran Trippier only made his Premier League debut at the age of 23, and the now 27 year old right back, made his first appearance for England in June last year when they lost a friendly to France.

Trippier came up through the Manchester City academy but he was never able to make it into their first team. He had two spells at Barnsley and one at Burnley, all of which were in the Championship League, and he then joined Burnley permanently for a reported £450,000 in January 2012.

He made a total of 185 appearances for Burnley before he was bought by Tottenham Hotspur for £3.5 million in 2015. However, he made just six appearances in the Premier League for Spurs in his first season there and twelve in his second.

Last summer he benefited when his England teammate Kyle Walker moved to Manchester City, but even so, he only started in twenty-one league games last season, as he had to fight with Serge Aurier for a place in the team.

Trippier has hugely benefited from Gareth Southgate’s decision to play 3-5-2 and move Walker to the centre. Tripper, affectional known as ‘the Bury Beckham, has excelled at the World Cup playing in a right wing back role, he has set up 13 chances and he scored in the penalty shootout against Colombia.

Nonetheless, he has remained modest throughout, when asked about comparisons between himself and some of England’s all-time greats he said, “Loads of people have been saying that but I’m nowhere near Beckham’s qualities. All I can do is keep doing the best I can and every opportunity I get I’ll try to put balls in like David Beckham.”

Trippier has attributed his success to his older brother, “When I was younger my brother was playing for Oldham. He was League One and League Two, and he’s the one I looked up to. I used to go and watch him every week, watching his training sessions at Oldham, playing there, kicking it against the wall. I just looked up to my brother because he was a professional and he was the one I wanted to follow. Unfortunately, he is not playing now but he’s the one who has helped me a hell of a lot. He was a full-back. He was a right-back and left-back. He played a few games in the Football League and he’s had a big impact on my career.”

Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire is an excellent example of the youth and inexperience that the team were being criticised for. The 25 year old centre back was at Euro 2016 as a fan, and at that point he had made just three Premier League appearances.

In a recent interview with BBC Radio 5 live, when he was asked if back then he could imagine himself playing for England he replied, “Definitely not. Hull went up through the play-offs but I wasn’t a regular. If I thought I’d be in this position I’d be dreaming.”

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Maguire is a product of the youth training facilities at his home team Sheffield United. He was playing in League One until 2013-14 at which point he joined Hull. However, after just 91 minutes of playing time in the Premier League he was sent out on loan to Wigan.

Eventually he did manage to break into the Hull team, and after a season in the Premier League he earned himself a £17 million move to Leicester City last summer. At the time, then manager Craig Shakespeare suggested that Maguire might be a “future England captain”.

He was a regular part of Leicester City’s starting team in the Premier League, and he has said that playing against his England teammate Jamie Vardy in training has made him into a better player.

Maguire made his England debut very recently, in the final World Cup qualifier against Lithuania last October, the same game in which Trippier made his competitive debut.

Maguire’s header against Sweden not only helped ensure England’s passage to the semi-finals, but it also made him the first player to score their first England goal in a World Cup knockout match since Rio Ferdinand in 2002 against Denmark.

Speaking after Saturday’s game Maguire said, “It’s a remarkable rise I have had over the last year or two. At the moment I’m in a bubble and maybe I’ll realise my achievement over time.”

Ferdinand spoke about Maguire after the match saying, “In both boxes Harry Maguire was immense. He was a man-mountain but with the ball at his feet he is graceful as well. He is indispensable to this team at the moment.”

After the match Maguire said, “You can’t get better than that and we’re through, that’s the main thing. We felt we could dominate the ball today. We knew set-plays would be a big thing.” When asked if England were going to win the tournament he said, “Hopefully! Fingers crossed.”

Jordan Pickford

Jordan Pickford, England’s goalkeeper, is only 24 years old, and when he was asked how he felt about reaching the semi-finals his response was, “Semi-finals? I wasn’t born in 1990, so I will take that”.

Despite his youth, Pickford is the third most expensive goalkeeper of all time. On the other hand, he has only had two full seasons in the Premier League and one of those ended with relegation. During his career Pickford has already playing in the top five divisions of English football.

He began with his local club Sunderland, but he had spells on loan in the Conference with Darlington and Alfreton, Burton in League Two, Carlisle and Bradford in League One, and Preston in the Championship, before finally earning a place in Sunderland’s team.

Pickford then made thirty-five appearances for Sunderland, during which he only kept clean sheets on five occasions (but this is largely down to the terrible defence). He was then signed by Everton last summer for around £30 million.

While Everton had a generally disappointing season, Pickford has been impressive, and he made his England debut in November, keeping a clean sheet against Germany in a friendly.

England’s first match in this World Cup, against Tunisia, was his competitive debut after he saw off the challenge of Jack Butland. He then saved a penalty as England won a World Cup penalty shootout for the first time in history when playing Colombia.

Against Sweden he made three fantastic saves to keep a clean sheet prompting manager Gareth Southgate to call him, “the prototype of what the modern goalkeeper should be”.

Pickford has earned praise from elsewhere this tournament with former Germany striker Jurgen Klinsmann saying, “What really impressed me was Jordan Pickford’s overall game and his distribution. His body language was always positive. You had the feeling he commanded his box.”

Saturday’s result made Pickford the youngest England goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in a World Cup match at 24 years and 122 days.

 

OCA News Editor

Christian Bright is a professional sports commentator with keen interests in football, tennis and horse racing. His experience in the reporting on professional sports makes him a key asset to OCA’s coverage of athletic events and matches.

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