Stekelenburg: World Cup Pressure Won't Faze Cool Pickford

Former World Cup finalist Maarten Stekelenburg has no doubt Jordan Pickford will excel when England’s tournament “really starts” with Tuesday’s last-16 tie against Colombia.

Everton goalkeeper Pickford played all three matches as Gareth Southgate’s side comfortably negotiated the group stage to set up a second-round meeting with the South Americans in Moscow.

Dutchman Stekelenburg was on the pitch for every minute of his country’s 2010 World Cup campaign, when Holland progressed all the way to the final before being undone by an extra-time goal from Spain’s Andres Iniesta.

The former Ajax and Roma keeper insists Everton teammate Pickford is perfectly equipped to handle the extra intensity and pressure which accompanies the competition’s knockout rounds.

“Jordan did extremely well last season and had good momentum going into the summer,” Stekelenburg told

“I expected him to be picked as England’s first-choice goalkeeper; in my opinion, that is what he is. And he is doing very well in the tournament so far.

“Jordan has a lot of self-belief and is so focused. You need those qualities if you want to perform to the level he is capable of reaching. And I know what he is capable of after training with him for a year.

“He does not panic and he works hard. He will not be bothered by anything.

“If you play a tournament as a goalkeeper there is a lot of attention on you. I made a mistake in the semi-final against Uruguay but we won 3-2 and reached the final anyway. It did not matter and you cannot let anything bother you.

“But the tournament really starts when you reach the knockout rounds and I have absolutely no doubt Jordan will play well against Colombia.”

England and Colombia are vying for the right to take on either Sweden or Switzerland in the last eight, with one of Croatia or hosts Russia waiting in a potential semi-final.

Stekelenburg, then, believes his clubmate’s ability to concentrate solely on the task in hand is especially valuable, with the temptation to study England’s conceivable route to the final in Moscow almost irresistible for a section of the nation’s football supporters.

Holland had to banish thoughts of a likely quarter-final meeting with Brazil when they encountered Slovakia in the second round in South Africa eight years ago.

“You do not think about what might come next,” said Stekelenburg. “In my experience, you just go on the pitch and keep doing what you were doing in the group stage.

“When you lose you have to go on your holiday. You get your holiday anyway, so you want to delay it as long as possible!

“You have a plan for each game, you are not going to have an easy game in the knockout stages of the World Cup. One bad night and it is over.

“I am sure Jordan will retain the focus he had throughout the season and so far in this tournament.

“We could not think about playing Brazil, first we had to beat Slovakia. The next game is the most important and if you think beyond it you will be going home.”

Stekelenburg understands how a country’s World Cup exploits grip supporters back at home.

But if  the 35-year-old's experience with Holland is anything to go by, Pickford and his teammates will be cocooned from all the hoopla surrounding the tournament, which has captured imaginations around the globe.

Equally, Stekelenburg was not at all surprised to hear Pickford say last week that he was adhering to his customary practices and making “600 saves a week” at England’s training base in Repino.

“You train every day at a World Cup and your routines are not greatly different from what you do at your club during the season,” said Stekelenburg.

“You just have to continue doing what you have been doing. And the same applies on the pitch in the competition, you cannot think about the pressure of it being sudden death. In my experience, you just go on the pitch and keep doing what you were doing in the group stage.

“A World Cup is the pinnacle for a footballer. When you are away with the team and preparing for a World Cup and then playing in it you do not think about what is happening at home.

"It is only afterwards you realise. When we went home in 2010 we saw what it meant to the people in Holland. But when you are at the tournament you are totally focused on it, you do not think about anything else.”

England manager Southgate described Pickford this week as “an important fit for the way we want to play” and reiterated his “belief” in the player.

Stekelenburg outlined the value to a goalkeeper of having his manager’s unstinting backing and explained how important it is for England's young defence to have Pickford's vocal presence stationed behind them.

“A goalkeeper sees everything, so he needs to talk,” said Stekelenburg. “That communication with your defence is vital. Somebody told me at the start of my career, the best goalkeepers do not have to make saves. You put your defenders in the right positions.

“Jordan talks all the time, which helps his defenders and helps him as well.

“Having the confidence of the coach is vital. It is reassuring to know that whatever happens the manager will stick by you.

“I could see from playing against Jordan before he came to Everton how much potential he had. He did very well last season and will only grow and get better.”

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