If one Harry doesn’t get you, another one will. It was just his tenth game for England and the biggest match of his curiously short career at the highest level - and yet Harry Maguire more than delivered.
Maguire joined Leicester City from relegated Hull one year and 22 days ago and has been a surprisingly regular figure in Gareth Southgate’s back three, a world away from standing with his mates watching Euro 2016 two years ago.
With Kyle Walker’s attacking instinct and John Stones’ ability to step into midfield, Southgate will have been forgiven for starting Gary Cahill against Tunisia two weeks ago. Instead he was brave and Maguire has been repaying him ever since.
His enormous presence makes him an incredibly difficult player to mark in the opposition box and as for his defensive work, not many strikers have got past him and lived to tell the tale.
Against Colombia he was in a determined mood, and his ferocious tenacity continued against Sweden. England had scored seven of their nine goals previous goals from set pieces with Harry Kane, Stones and Maguire all causing havoc in opposition boxes.
Seven set piece goals became eight when Maguire fixated his eyes on Ashley Young’s corner and threw his weight towards the ball, flooring any player in a yellow shirt who dared get themselves in his way, and headed England into the lead.
“We are hungry, we are fearless,” said Maguire of this young squad after beating Colombia on penalties, but he may as well have been talking solely about himself.
At times for Leicester he has looked sheepish and a shadow of the player he has proved he is in Russia. Against Crystal Palace when Leicester were beaten 5-0, Maguire was at the heart of a chaotic defence where each individual was relieving themselves of any responsibility in an ugly display. Of course, that performance was not typical of his entire season but it shows just how far he has come to be the consistent powerhouse at the heart of England’s defence.
As expected, Sweden tried to work the forward quickly after defending deep. Each time the ball was fired towards Marcus Berg, a 100kg defender would immediately beat him to the ball to intercept the pass, head it away or steal it from his feet. Maguire will receive endless deserved plaudits for his work in opposition boxes, but his defending was once again exceptional.
International tournaments always throw up surprise heroes and surprise performances, but no shock is bigger than the remarkable rise of Maguire who has gone from unlikely outsider in this England team to fans’ favourite.
England are into the semi-final the World Cup for the first time since Italia 90, in that defence was Terry Butcher and Stuart Pearce, 38 years on and England have Harry Maguire. This England side have an incredible chance to make history at this World Cup and Maguire will have a huge say is what kind of success is achieved.
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