Tireless Hargreaves wins over his critics

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The Independent Football

Amid the ruins there were two performances that England could be proud of in Gelsenkirchen on Saturday; those of Owen Hargreaves, and the supporters who humbly yet vociferously brought his reign as the international outcast to an end.

It was in the 117th minute of the Bayern Munich midfielder's imperious display against Portugal that a small pocket of England fans, approximately the same number that had jeered his introduction as a substitute against Paraguay exactly three weeks before, began to sing the name of the 25-year-old whose Canadian roots and Bundesliga association had established him as an easy target to dismiss. Within seconds recognition of his outstanding contribution and spirit had spread throughout the majority of the 52,000 crowd, so that only one name reverberated around the enclosed AufSchalke Arena as 10-man England continued to search for the breakthrough that would have spared the customary heartache.

Confirmation that Hargreaves had finally won over the English faithful, as he vowed to do following the whistles that greeted his arrival in the friendly against Hungary, was the latest demonstration of will-power from a man who left Calgary at 16 intent on forging a successful career with one of the leading names in European football. Unfortunately the impact was lost on arguably the most disillusioned man ever to collect a man of the match award from a World Cup quarter-final.

"I wasn't aware of it at the time to be honest, I was just so focused on the game, but I found out about what happened straight after the game," revealed Hargreaves. "I think it's an absolutely brilliant thing to happen to me, especially after the criticism I had at the start of the tournament. It's brilliant, and I'm very happy that the tide has turned in that respect. It is what you work for as a footballer. The fans are crucial, and ours are the best in the world, so to have them singing my name is a dream come true for me. Football is a business, it's full of ups and downs, good and bad, but I was just doing the job that was asked of me."

Such was the strength of Hargreaves' performance against Portugal, a display that will have come as no surprise to his employers in Munich, that he has not only banished the reservations over his place in the England squad but would now represent a surprise omission should he fail to make Steve McClaren's first England team against Greece in August. His accuracy from the penalty spot should also promote his claims too.

Hargreaves added: "I hope the support I received helps me for the rest of my England career but it is hard to look forward just now. I never expected us to be packing our bags, I expected us to win. Even when it went to penalties I was convinced we'd win."

Appreciation of the midfielder, who has conducted himself impressively on and off the pitch in Germany this summer, was not only confined to the stands, with Hargreaves' England colleagues taken by his input while they fought for 60 minutes with only 10 men.

"There were some performances that defied logic," said Gary Neville, never an easy man to please. "Owen Hargreaves was incredible. Six weeks ago they were booing him and Peter Crouch, and now they are singing his name. They should continue to sing his name because that was incredible. Sometimes during a game you don't notice performances, and when you do it must be a great performance. It was everything you want an England player to give. I said to him afterwards you could not have done any more."

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