Jordan Pickford bolstered his reputation as a formidable penalty saver at Wembley on Sunday, despite the fact that no spot kicks were required as England came from a goal down to beat Croatia 2-1 and earn a place in the Uefa Nations League final four.
Jesse Lingard and Harry Kane struck for England after Andrej Kramaric had put Gareth Southgate’s men on course for relegation by giving Croatia the lead with a deflected shot in the 57th minute, and Pickford had little to do as the home side spent much of the afternoon on the front foot.
But eagle-eyed observers spotted that the Everton goalkeeper had the names of Croatia’s likely penalty takers scribbled on his water bottle, along with their preferred placement.
Sunday’s game could not go to a penalty shootout, but Pickford was determined to be fully prepared if Croatia got a chance to heap misery on England from the spot in normal time.
“It shows our team spirit, our quality, the mental toughness we've got as a group,” Pickford said after the match of England’s fightback. “We dug in, it wasn't always pretty at times. We played some quality football but then set-pieces won us the game.
“It's been a right learning curve for a lot of us [this year], a step forward we needed as a group and we know where we stand and where we need to improve.
“The main thing is to be beating top sides for starters. We've done that in the last two games so we're heading in the right direction.”
Pickford’s water bottle trick was first noticed during England’s round of 16 clash with Colombia at the World Cup last summer, where he emerged as a hero by foiling Carlos Bacca from 12 yards. He also prepared notes on the USA ahead of his country’s friendly win last week.
The 24-year-old has saved three penalties already this season, but admitted that he did not do the same level of preparation before keeping out Luka Milivojevic’s effort with his feet during Everton’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace last month.
“I forgot to do my research to be honest, but watching other games back you can see he [Milivojevic] is a very good penalty taker so I was pleased to save that penalty,” he said.
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