Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has been one of the revelations for England in the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia.
With only three international caps to his credit, Pickford was a bit of a surprise choice for the starting XI berth in the greatest show on earth, given England’s history of opting for the conventional choice in goalkeeping, in this case Joe Hart being the most obvious option.
England manager Gareth Southgate however, decided to deploy Pickford between the sticks, putting his faith on the largely untried and untested Everton keeper in the harsh realities of international football.
Pickford did make a couple of saves, albeit not eye-catching or jaw-dropping, against Tunisia and Belgium in the group stage but it is against Colombia in the last 16 really that he announced his grand arrival in the biggest stage of them all.
Jordan Pickford is now the youngest England goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in a #WorldCup match (24y 122d).— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) July 7, 2018
Reaction: https://t.co/hXEB251FQV#bbcworldcup #worldcup #ENG #SWE #SWEENG #ENGSWE pic.twitter.com/45kP9fzUct
He replicated the heroics in the quarter-final against Sweden to become the darling of the football-mad nation.
Besides his blocks, saves and reflexes, which are Pickford’s day job really, the former Sunderland custodian also showed another dimension to his play.
His short, regular and astute passes to the defence or midfield has been a feature of England’s play right throughout the tournament.
English netminders in the past were not known for their skills with the ball but Pickford has been a breath of fresh air, adding quality to England’s play with his short passes forward.
Even when opposition forwards lay siege to England's goal, Pickford barely panics, and just passes the ball to the closest man around, instead of just kicking it to the other half of the field.
The man of the moment credited his early days as an attacker for his calm and confident presence at the back.
“I think all goalkeepers have their own strengths and weaknesses that you can learn and get better on,” said Pickford to the media at the mixed zone following the last eight clash against Sweden in Samara.
“But it’s how you adapt and it doesn’t really matter as long as you know yourself that you can get as good as you can be.
“Yeah, I always join in the possessions and stuff and Kevin Ball (Pickford’s former coach and ex-English footballer) always said I can play upfield if I wanted to. I played upfield in the U-15s. It’s enjoyable when it comes off,” added the 24-year old.
Swedish manager Janne Andersson heaped praise on Pickford, who made some lovely saves to keep the Swedes at bay.
"The (England) keeper made great saves yet again. You have to respect you are faced with a good keeper," Andersson said after their quarter clash.
Apparently nothing fazes Pickford, according to the man himself, who in June last year became the most expensive British keeper in history after Everton paid Sunderland £25m for his services.
Youngest 'keepers to not concede during 90 minutes of a World Cup knockout game since 2002:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 7, 2018
21-year-old Iker Casillas vs. 🇰🇷 (2002)
22-year-old Thibaut Courtois vs. 🇺🇸 (2014)
24-year-old Manuel Neuer vs. 🇦🇷 (2010)
24-year-old Jordan Pickford vs. 🇸🇪 (2018)
Good company. pic.twitter.com/4lCCiRrlZW
"I don't put myself under pressure and play in the moment, nothing fazes me. The pitch is always the same. The lines and goal height are the same,” he said.
"I just work hard every day. I kept a clean sheet because all the work I do in training is to showcase on match day. I am capable of making these saves and it showed in the performance (against Sweden),” he added.
“Creating our own history” has been a common theme in the English camp in Russia and Pickford was no different.
"I wasn't born the last time England reached a World Cup semi-final," said Pickford.
"We have always said we would take one game at a time and we can go on and create our own history."