Jordan Pickford makes a vital save to deny Timo Werner
As recently as January, there was still a debate rumbling over whether or not Jordan Pickford should be England’s goalkeeper at the European Championship.
To have suggested then that Pickford would make a strong case to be the best goalkeeper at the tournament would have invited ridicule.
And yet, for the second major tournament running, Pickford has emerged as one of England’s key men and has repaid manager Gareth Southgate’s faith in him.
Four games, four clean sheets and England into the quarter-finals of the Euros. Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane have scored the goals, but Pickford’s contribution has been just as important and there can be no doubt over who the country’s No 1 is.
Southgate’s loyalty to his players can at times be infuriating, particularly when their club form dips and there seems little logic in standing by them.
But Pickford is an example of an England player who often performs better for his country than he does for his club, although the 27 year-old finished the season strongly for Everton.
The former Sunderland player thrives on the pressure of representing his country, of having the hopes of a nation resting on his shoulders and trying to succeed where others have failed.
Jordan Pickford (right) and Declan Rice celebrate victory over Germany
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He was one of the few England players to cope with the unique atmosphere of facing Scotland in a major tournament and he rose to the occasion again against Germany.
It has not just been some of his saves that have been eye-catching, but also his willingness to take his team-mates to task, his courage to scream at his central defenders and not give anybody a moment’s rest.
There has been more than one heated exchange between Pickford and John Stones during this tournament and he has also shared frank differences of opinion with Tyrone Mings without crossing a line.
Talk is cheap, of course, if you cannot back it up with actions and Pickford certainly managed to do that at Wembley on Tuesday night. It was not a game in which he was required to make save after save, but he kept his concentration and rescued England a couple of times.
England 2 Germany 0 – Euro 2020
The sight of Timo Werner bearing down on goal may not be the most threatening for Premier League goalkeepers who witnessed the German’s first season in English football for Chelsea.
But Pickford spread himself excellently just after the half-an-hour mark to stop Werner after Kai Havertz played his team-mate for club and country through on goal.
His second big save came just three minutes after the restart and this time it was Havertz who cracked a well-struck shot that was heading for the top of the net until Pickford brilliantly tipped the ball over his crossbar.
Jordan Pickford tips a rocket from Kai Havertz over the bar
Pickford has claimed that he has felt much calmer since working with a sports psychologist and, while his team-mates who have been on the receiving end of his screaming may not agree, he certainly appears far more assured.
He kept his head to punch a high ball clear when under pressure inside his own six-yard box and breathed a huge sigh of relief when he was beaten for the first time in the tournament.
Thomas Muller looked for all the world that he would level the scores, following Sterling’s opener. The German sent Pickford the wrong way, but also placed his shot the wrong side of the post.
Thomas Muller drags his shot wide
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It was a big slice of luck for England and yet it was one Pickford had thoroughly deserved. There was an extra yard or two on his long kicks after Kane had doubled his side’s lead, but Pickford was still pointing and shouting instructions with the game effectively won.
He wanted the clean sheet and when the final whistle sounded Pickford turned to the England fans behind him, clenched fists, celebrating. He did not need to prove himself in Southagte’s eyes, but he is winning the nation’s hearts at a major tournament once again.