England goalkeeper played an instrumental role in propelling the Three Lions to their first ever World Cup penalty shootout victory. Then Saturday saw him emerge as hero once more, as he pulled off off save after incredible save to keep Sweden at bay in his side’s quarter-final victory.
At the other end, England scored twice to move within a goal of their record haul for an individual World Cup – 11 from their triumphant 1966 campaign. But it was Pickford’s acrobatics that ensured the win was a comfortable one.
He was on hand to deny Marcus Berg on two occasions, first diving to his left to tip a goal-bound header round the post and then reaching up instinctively to palm a snapshot over the bar. Ola Toivoinen also found himself thwarted by Pickford’s quick reflexes when the net seemed sure to bulge.
These feats cap a remarkable rise from the 24-year old, who was playing semi-professional football as recently as 2013 with English sixth-tier club Alfreton Town. Pickford had joined Sunderland’s academy when he was eight, signing his first full-time contract in 2011, but went out on loan to lower league sides for first-team experience.
The modest keeper says that those experiences have helped to make him the player he is today. And despite thriving in that shootout win over Colombia, the Budweiser Man of the Match from England’s quarter-final win would always pick shutouts over penalty drama.
“The highlight of that was the clean sheet,” he said of the victory over Sweden. “But it’ll go on my mantelpiece, that one,” added Pickford, referring to his Man of the Match trophy. “It’s about keeping performing and getting better, and the more games you play, the better you become.
“This is where I want to be. I just want to be playing in the biggest matches against big teams. I just keep myself level-headed and do my best for the team.
“I wasn’t born the last time England reached a World Cup semi-final. We have always said we would it take one game at a time but we can go on and create our own history.
“We are a young side but we’re an experienced young side, as daft as that sounds. We know how to work and play for each other, and what our strengths are. We know how to win.”