Outstanding Pickford Helps England Into World Cup Semi-Finals

by Paul McNamara

Jordan Pickford is poised to become the first Everton player to represent England in a World Cup semi-final since Ray Wilson in 1966.

Toffees goalkeeper Pickford produced three exceptional second-half stops to record the third clean sheet of his embryonic Three Lions career as Gareth Southgate’s men comfortably disposed of Sweden in their last-eight tie in Russia.

The 24-year-old, England’s youngest goalkeeper at a World Cup finals, twice saved thrillingly from striker Marcus Berg, either side of a splendid reflex stop to keep out a Viktor Claesson effort.

A staid encounter exploded into life on 30 minutes when Harry Maguire leapt above marker Emil Forsberg to meet Ashley Young’s left-wing corner and power England into the lead.

Dele Alli arrived at the back post to nod in Jesse Lingard’s first-time ball from the right on 59 minutes.

Pickford was relatively untroubled in the opening half – albeit the Everton man was on his toes to snaffle a menacing Forsberg delivery from the left three minutes before the break.

Raheem Sterling twice came close to doubling England’s advantage in the next two minutes. Victor Lindelof’s last-ditch defending prevented Manchester City attacker Sterling from getting his shot away after racing onto a terrific through ball from Kieran Tripper.

Pickford launched his side’s next raid with a fabulous pass swiped out to right wing-back Trippier – the third occasion in the first 45 minutes on which the goalkeeper picked out Tottenham Hotspur player Trippier in such fashion. Jordan Henderson eventually fed the ball over the top for Sterling who was denied one-on-one by Sweden number one Robin Olsen.

Pickford was the goalkeeper in action almost immediately after the break, diving athletically to his left to paw away Berg’s header one-handed from inside his left-post.

Alli conclusively ended a spell of concerted England pressure when he timed his run perfectly to convert fellow midfielder Lingard’s delivery and give his team precious breathing space.

Sweden sought to respond and a slick move, the Scandinavians’ most fluid of the contest, set up Claesson for a shot from 12 yards that had Pickford summoning his fantastic reflexes to get down to his right and push the ball to safety.

Pickford used his fingertips to turn Berg’s rising 71st-minute strike over the bar and complete a hat-trick of magnificent saves.

“Goalkeeping of the highest order,” said former Everton and England defender Martin Keown on the BBC. The Three Lions never looked like surrendering their advantage on the way to winning a third World Cup quarter-final from nine attempts.

Pickford will be only the third goalkeeper after Gordon Banks in 1966 and Peter Shilton 24 years later to play for England in a World Cup semi-final when Southgate’s men take on Croatia in Moscow on Wednesday (7pm).

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