England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford proved he was “one of the best goalkeepers at the World Cup” and should be proud after a “monumental” tournament.
That is the view of former Everton striker Graham Stuart, who was speaking after the Three Lions were edged out 2-1 by Croatia in Wednesday night’s World Cup semi-final.
Blues stopper Pickford produced another impressive display but Gareth Southgate’s men were beaten in what was England’s first appearance in a last-four clash at the tournament since 1990.
After a man-of-the-match performance in the quarter-final victory over Sweden on Saturday, Pickford was again a formidable figure as the last line of England’s defence in Moscow.
But after Ivan Perisic cancelled out Kieran Trippier's opener, Mario Mandzukic’s extra-time strike proved decisive as Croatia booked a final showdown with France on Sunday.
Stuart, however, believes Southgate’s men should return to England with their heads held high and insists Pickford was one of their shining lights throughout the tournament.
“He has 100% proved himself to be one of the best goalkeepers, if not the
best goalkeeper, in the World Cup,” the 1995 FA Cup winner and Everton Club Ambassador explained.
“He’ll be a hugely disappointed young man this evening along with his teammates but, when he reflects on it, he should be very proud of his personal performances at the tournament.
“He’s one of the England players who have absolutely covered themselves in glory in this competition. And I’m sure his family, everybody surrounding him, and everybody at Everton Football Club will be very proud of what Jordan’s done, too.
“The competition just didn’t faze him. That is the sign of a confident young man, he has played on the biggest stage in world football and risen to it. He’s looked like he’s enjoyed it – like he feels he deserves to be there. And he’s proved he deserves to be on that stage.
“He’s had a monumental tournament.”
After England safely negotiated the group stage in Russia, Pickford played a starring role as the Three Lions beat Colombia in the last 16, producing a superb, one-handed penalty shootout stop from Carlos Bacca as England booked their spot in the quarter-finals.
Another standout display followed against Sweden in the last eight, as he made a hat-trick of fine saves – two from Marcus Berg, sandwiched between a reaction stop from Viktor Claesson – as Southgate’s men triumphed 2-0.
And against Croatia in the semis he added another brilliant stop to his personal highlight reel, as he made a courageous point-blank save from Mandzukic in extra time.
“The Croatia centre-forward’s made a good connection and I’m sure he thought it was in,” Stuart said.
“Jordan was brave enough and read the situation, it was a terrific save and it was from such close range. I think everyone realises now what an absolutely top-class goalkeeper he is.”
At just 24, Pickford is the youngest goalkeeper ever to feature for England at a World Cup finals.
Stuart believes the experience of playing - and flourishing - on such a platform will only elevate his game to even greater heights.
“Knowing Jordan’s mentality, he’ll want to get back to Everton and prove he is England’s number one goalkeeper and one of the very best in the Premier League,” he said.
“And there’s no reason why he shouldn’t think that, he’s went out and performed at an exceptionally high level at a World Cup – you can’t ask for more than that.”
Stuart is also optimistic about England’s prospects and believes the youth, quality and team spirit in the camp suggests a bright future lies ahead for the Three Lions.
“I think in the past, there’s always been this feeling that England has been a team of individuals thrown together,” he explained. “Whereas this side, they look like there’s a togetherness to them.
“They look like they enjoy each other’s company, like they’re a team.
“The next step is the Euros and, if you keep the nucleus of that team and that squad, I think we can push on and challenge in 2020. You feel that this group of players is only going to get better.”