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‘Prototype’ Pickford reshaping opinions of English GKs

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SAMARA, Russia (AP) — 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?”

[ VIDEO: England fans celebrate World Cup win over Sweden at IKEA ]

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.

[ ENGLAND: Why they’ll win the World Cup ]

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 mold. 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.

[ MORE: Zlatan loses bet with Beckham after England win ]

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 meters) 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.

Why they’ll win the World Cup: England

AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano

That said, let’s talk about why England will be lifting the World Cup trophy on July 15 in Moscow.

[ RECAP: England tops Sweden ]

There’s an argument to be made that all four World Cup semifinalists are playing with house money. Didier Deschamps has already declared France’s tournament a success; Belgium’s Golden Generation has scored several historically memorable wins; Croatia was bounced at the group stage at its three previous World Cups, and England’s men have met their first semi in ages.

If that’s the way England continues to view their tournament, then perhaps the title really may be “coming home.” It seems the media and fans are riding the momentum of an unexpected run and relatively easy path to the final instead of doing what they usually do: Heaping pressure on England due to “an opportunity that cannot be dropped!”

England has emerged relatively unscathed, driven by the performances of two fellas named Harry, a Jordan, and a Kieran.

While Harry Kane‘s heroics have been well-documented at Tottenham Hotspur, his teammate Kieran Trippier has mostly been under the radar going back to his time leading the Premier League in crosses with Burnley.

And Harry Maguire was the star man on Hull City’s relegation campaign in 2016-17 before moving to Leicester City and performing well albeit under the radar last season (Note to self: Keep looking at which PL relegated players haven’t landed with new PL clubs).

Then there’s Jordan Pickford, the Everton-via-Sunderland backstop who is enjoying not being massively under fire for once in his last three seasons. The Northeast England native may be called upon to reprise his busy act soon, but has so far been constrained to the occasional mega watt save.

In taking over for Sam Allardyce, Gareth Southgate has been the anti-Big Sam: no bluster, all feel good. And we know the honeymoon may not last forever, but the ex-Middlesbrough boss so far has the momentum of something much bigger than his resume.

The sum of its parts > England’s collection of talent.

Maybe the World Cup trophy is “coming home.”

Pickford believes England can establish their own history in 2018

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The Three Lions are in the semifinals again for the first time in nearly three decades, and one of the men firmly involved in the country’s success wasn’t even born when England last found this sort of success.

Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford once again exemplified his importance to Gareth Southgate‘s team on Saturday with three massive saves in England’s 2-0 quarterfinals victory over Sweden.

The 24-year-old Everton keeper, who was born four years after England’s last semifinal visit, believes that the Three Lions are in position to re-write their own history this summer as the European nation aims to win its second World Cup in its storied career.

“I think [before] this [semifinal berth] it was 1990 and I wasn’t born for that, so I’ll take that,” Pickford told the BBC. “We have always said take one game, game-by-game, and we can go on and create our own history but it’s now about rest and recovery, but we’ll work hard and our ability should show.”

Pickford wasn’t tested often against Sweden, however, when he was, the young shot-stopper was prepared for a handful of brilliant saves to keep his first clean sheet of this World Cup.

“We knew it was going to be difficult against Sweden, we know what they bring to the party and we managed it very well,” Pickford said. “We worked hard and we’re showing our abilities and our mental side of the game.

“You got to be ready from the start, which I was and you’ve got to be alert and that’ll get you in the game straightaway, so after I made that first save, I think it was against [Marcus] Berg with his header about 47 minutes I felt that was me set for the rest of the game.”

England PK heroes Dier, Pickford react to win

AP Photo/Antonio Calanni

With all the eyes in England watching him, Eric Dier scored the decisive penalty kick to send the Three Lions to the World Cup quarterfinals.

[ RECAP: England 1-1 (4-3 PKs) Colombia ]

A non-descript match in terms of attack for most of the game — there were plenty of fouls — a Harry Kane penalty kick was the only goal until Colombia struck via a Yerry Mina header in second half stoppage time.

At that point, England predictably was rattled but battled to survive extra time and reach its old nemesis: penalty kicks. After Jordan Henderson was saved by David Ospina and Manuel Uribe hit the cross bar, England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford saved Carlos Bacca’s effort to set the stage for Dier.

He didn’t miss.

“To get knocked down like we did is difficult to come back from it,” Dier said, according to the BBC. “We knew what we had to do and we stayed calm. We never panicked. We were ready for that.”

Here are more of his thoughts, as aired on FOX:

“It was a nervous one. I’ve never really been in a situation like that before but I felt like I had to score after missing the header I missed at the end there so I’m just thankful I scored that one.

“(Jordan Pickford) is a fantastic goalkeeper, has a fantastic attitude, and deserves everything. He’s been brilliant in training and taken it into the game.”

And here’s Pickford:

“I did all my research on them for starters. We had a fair feeling. Falcao’s the only one who really didn’t go his way. I’ve got power and agility. I don’t care if I’m not the biggest keeper but I’ve got that power and agility around the goal. It’s about being there in the moment and making the save and I was.”

The buzz after the match is that England has exorcised its penalty kick demons, having lost its first three World Cup penalty shootouts. If the Three Lions don’t win it all — and the bracket is clear for a run at it — at least perhaps that will be the enduring memory of the tournament.

VIDEO: Mina’s stoppage time header forces England-Colombia to extra time

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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Manuel Uribe’s speculative shot led to an outstanding Jordan Pickford save, the likes of which seemed to salt away England’s spot in the World Cup quarterfinals if the Three Lions could just deal with one stoppage time corner.

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Narrator voice: They couldn’t.

Barcelona center back Yerry Mina pounded a header off the ground that Kieran Trippier could only partially block, and Colombia used one of its precious few chances on Tuesday in Moscow to send the match to extra time.