Everton centre-back Ashley Williams revealed he had no doubts “big character” Jordan Pickford would “handle the pressure” of playing at a World Cup, as the Everton stopper prepares for England's quarter-final showdown with Sweden on Saturday (3pm kick-off).
The Wales defender also revealed that the Blues squad were quick to send on messages of congratulations to the keeper after his penalty shootout heroics in England’s last-16 victory over Colombia on Tuesday night.
Pickford, who at 24 is the youngest goalkeeper ever to appear for England at a World Cup finals, made a decisive save from AC Milan striker Carlos Bacca in the shootout. His stunning one-handed stop gave Eric Dier the chance to step up and send the Three Lions through to the last eight – and the Tottenham Hotspur man duly slotted home as England qualified for the quarter-finals of the tournament for the first time since 2006.
Williams, who has made 73 appearances for Everton since signing from Swansea City in 2016, says he always knew Pickford - Everton's player, players' player and young player of 2017/18 - would thrive on such a big stage.
“I’ve been watching all the games and obviously wanting Jordan to do really well,” the 33-year-old Williams told evertontv.
“I’m just really pleased for him with his success that he’s got so far. Here at Everton, we know how good he is - we see him week in, week out. I’m just made up for him.
“And after the other night, everyone was sending him messages in our group chat. He’s a very talented goalkeeper and a nice lad, too. Everyone likes him and we all get on well with him.”
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As well as his inspired performance in the shootout on Tuesday, Pickford also produced a save-of-the-tournament contender in the last minute of normal time, making a breathtaking, full-stretch fingertip stop from Mateus Uribe.
The save was praised as “brilliant” by David Seaman – the only other goalkeeper to feature in a penalty shootout triumph for England at a major tournament.
Speaking to evertonfc.com earlier this week, the ex-Arsenal man added Pickford “has great confidence and is showing he can back that up with his performances”.
Williams agrees that, alongside Pickford’s obvious goalkeeping quality, his presence and unshakeable belief make him a formidable figure as the last line of the defence.
“He’s a big character in the dressing room,” Williams revealed. “He’s a confident lad, he’s down to earth. He just comes out here every day and does his work – the same on matchday. I’m sure he’s handling the pressure at the World Cup fine.
“He’s a very grounded and he just gets on with it. He does his job.”
Williams was part of a Wales squad that made a remarkable run to the semi-finals of the European Championship in France two years ago.
A standout feature of Chris Coleman’s side was their team spirit and it’s a quality Gareth Southgate’s England squad also appears to have out in Russia. Indeed, Pickford recently succinctly explained, “We all get along mint”.
Williams – who has won 79 international caps for Wales – is convinced the Everton keeper will be playing a big part in keeping spirits high in the camp.
“I’m sure he’s in the middle of all the jokes and carrying on,” he explained. “He’s a bit of a joker and a very loud character to have around. But that’s great because you need those characters in the dressing room.
“I think team spirit is one of the most important things you can have. You can have as many talented players as you want but if the team spirit isn’t good you’re not going to achieve too much, especially when the times get hard and you have to all pull together.
“You’re playing for the guy next to you and – if it’s someone you’ve got a special bond with – you’re always going to go the extra mile.”