Pickford allays fitness fears
Jordan Pickford has allayed fears over his fitness for England's first World Cup semi-final in 28 years, despite departing Samara clutching the man-of-the-match award while sporting heavy bandaging on his left hand.
The Everton goalkeeper's trio of outstanding second-half saves, denying Marcus Berg twice and Viktor Claesson, secured England a first clean sheet of the tournament and smoothed their progress into the last four for the third time in their history.
Yet a moment of indecision in the second half led to Pickford momentarily losing his cool and attempt to thump the turf in frustration.
"It was a daft injury by myself," he said. "I went to punch the floor 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?
"The award will go on my mantelpiece, that one. It's about performing and getting better, and the more games you play the better you become. I feel this performance has put me in good stead."
Pickford's penalty save from Colombia's Carlos Bacca in the last-16 shootout had demonstrated the 24-year-old's qualities with his performance in Samara, watched by family and friends in the stand, underlying that pedigree. His first two saves from Berg and Claesson, in particular, took the breath away.
"As long as you are set and in the right position, you give yourself the best opportunity," he said. "The other 'keepers and I, and Marge [the goalkeeping coach, Martyn Margetson], work hard every day to make these saves become a bit easier. We do about 600 saves a week just to make one save on a Saturday, and that's what it's all about. We don't want to be going into a penalty shootout every game, and that's my job to help the team when I'm called upon by making those saves.
"To win a shootout and go through all that emotion as a group, and now to beat a tough opponent in Sweden . . . that just shows you our mental strength and our togetherness going into games."
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