27th June 2016. England-Iceland. Ground zero for English football.
After a Wayne Rooney penalty, the minnows equalise when a long throw is turned in by Ragnar Sigurdsson. Then disaster strikes for Joe Hart as Kolbeinn Sigthorsson takes a shot from distance in the 18th minute which the Manchester City keeper lets slip under his hand. Iceland hold on for a famous victory in Nice, and Roy Hodgson’s team are dumped out of the Euros.
England’s recent history is punctuated by goalkeeping errors. Hart against Iceland, Rob Green’s blunder against the USA, Paul Robinson’s miskick against Croatia, Ronaldinho’s lob over David Seaman… for a country with a proud tradition of keepers stretching back to Gordon Banks, trust in the No.1 is at a low ebb.
With one outstretched hand, Jordan Pickford went some way to repairing that damage in Moscow on Tuesday night. The Everton keeper’s save from Carlos Bacca set England on the way to their first ever penalty shootout win at a World Cup, and a quarterfinal against Sweden.
So what makes the man who Thibaut Courtois suggested was too short to be a top-class keeper any different to the ones who wore the Three Lions’ shirt before him?
Height doesn’t matter
That save against Bacca wasn’t even Pickford’s most impressive contribution in the Round of 16 clash.
Just before Yerry Mina’s equaliser looked to have scuppered England hopes, Mateus Uribe took a pot-shot from distance. Pickford sidestepped to his left and launched himself upwards, extending his arm to claw the ball out from the top corner with one hand.
The replay wasn’t shown on TV, but it was probably one of the saves of the tournament. You can only appreciate the sheer athleticism the save requires by watching it back in slow motion and observing how Pickford stretches every sinew to get to the ball.