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Chris Waddle on England fears, Jordan Pickford & Italia ‘90

| 01.07.2021

Chris Waddle has two World Cup campaigns and a European Championship selection on his CV. But how does he rate the current squad’s chances of succeeding at Euro 2020? 

We spoke to the ex-international, with 62 caps to his name, to talk about England and his Three Lions memories ahead of his England v Denmark Ladbrokes 5-A-Side selection… 

Advice for England players 

“We had some great chances in that game against Germany in 1990 to win the game before the shootout.  

“I watched the game back recently and I actually hit the post late on in the first half of extra-time. It almost bounces straight to [Gary] Lineker for a tap-in. We’d have then been defending a 2-1 lead for 15 minutes; we’d have got through that. It’s a massive what-if moment.  

“I just hope this time around it doesn’t come down to those what-ifs. There are going to be moments throughout the game for a number of players, and it’s all about taking your chance. Don’t leave it to what-ifs.” 

“It’s about moments in the game. It might be Harry Kane, it might be someone else. I don’t want someone hitting the bar, whiskers away from a winner, and we’re sat here a few years down the line thinking ‘imagine if that would’ve gone in’.  

“The best advice I could give would be to take those chances; don’t leave it to ifs and buts, don’t rely on the lottery of a penalty shootout. Make your moment count. 

“After the game against Ukraine at the weekend, you see everyone getting excited across the country, you hear ‘it’s coming home’ and all this. But there are two hard games still left to play, assuming we make the final. Denmark are on a mission this year, and historically those Scandinavian teams have always given us problems.  

“But even after that, it’s Italy or Spain in the final. I just get so frustrated with the build-up because everyone gets so excited, thinking we’ve already got our hands on the trophy. Take it one game at a time. Get over the line against Denmark and go again in the final.” 

On England’s worries 

I do worry a little bit about England being caught on the counter-attack on Wednesday. If we play four at the back and our full-backs are high up the pitch, it leaves Harry Maguire and John Stones exposed a little because – as good as they are in every other aspect of their game – they do lack that little bit of pace. 

“I’d feel more comfortable playing as a back three with Kyle Walker alongside Stones and Maguire, because he’d no doubt be the quickest player on the pitch, but that Danish attack concerns me a little bit.  

“It’s a bit old-fashioned at times, but they have no problems with playing those balls over the top, and they’ve got a lot of pace in that side. 

“The two sides are very similar in many ways, so this fixture might just come down to who takes their chances. I think Denmark will start with three at the back, and if England are getting a lot of joy, they’ll change things up and put Andreas Christensen further up the pitch into the middle. 

“I can see both teams coming out with three at the back. It’s going to be a tense game, I think there’ll be a lot of slow build-up play. I think Denmark will try and take us on a little bit, and they’ll look to exploit the pace of Stones and Maguire. 

“There’s going to be a lot of nerves on display, that’s for sure. It could boil down to a set-piece, and that’s always been a big strength in England’s game.”

None of this current squad get in my 1990 World Cup squad 

“People are always going to compare squads and different England sides from years gone by. I look at the team we had in 1990, and I’ve got to say I don’t think any of the current squad would get into it.  

“But then you get the mob from Euro 1996 saying the same about their squad. It always happens; you’re always going to get matched up. 

“I don’t think world football is as strong as it was, though. A lot of these countries have got weaker while England have got stronger; I look at some of the teams we played back in the day, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Poland, Romania – they were good; they were fantastic sides. 

“We know who the big-hitters are. You’ll reel off six or seven teams in world football who are likely to win tournaments. 

“When I played, the weakest team we played was probably Turkey. No disrespect to the Moldova’s and the San Marino’s, but you’ve got to look at them and think ‘are these really international level teams?’ Don’t get me wrong, we had some games where you knew going into them we were going to score four or five, but more often than not, the games were really tight. 

“It’s a strange one, that Golden Generation tag from the early 2000s. I look back at the team from 1990, and we had a lot of players from different clubs within the team. That Golden Generation was very Man United heavy at the time, with a bit of Liverpool in there as well. They were the generation who were going to win everything, but they didn’t get near enough. 

“We were just called the Italia ’90 squad, I don’t know why we were never classed as a Golden Generation.” 

On penalties 

“When you look back on that semi-final against Germany, obviously it’s a horrible way to lose the game. Gareth Southgate had it in Euro 1996 and we’ve seen other players experience it for England in later tournaments. You’ve not lost the football match; you’ve lost in a lottery. 

“You can’t let it affect you mentally though. You’ve got to think ‘it’s just a job’. You’ve got to stick your chest out and own it; you can’t go and hide away. Look at my career after that moment, I went away and won titles in France, reached cup finals with Sheffield Wednesday and won footballer of the year. I knew I wasn’t going to let it affect me.  

“Lionel Messi’s missed them. Cristiano Ronaldo’s missed them, even Kylian Mbappe this summer as well. No one means to miss, but that’s football. 

“I wasn’t even on the list of penalty takers in that Germany game. Gazza was supposed to be fifth. But obviously we saw the state Gazza was in because of picking up that yellow card, so the gaffer asked us who fancied it. Not a lot of hands went up. I’d enjoyed the game up to that point; it was a good game to be a part of, and I was feeling confident. 

“I’m not a penalty taker; I never have been. I can honestly say I think I’ve probably taken four in my entire career – that’s including playing at school.”  

“I was watching the goalkeeper for the first four penalties and he kept going to his right, so I was planning on placing it in the right-hand corner, the goalkeeper’s left. I’m watching Stuart [Pearce] step up, he missed, and I just changed my mind at that moment and went for power. 

“When you’re standing in front of a full stadium of fans, and two billion people watching, all of a sudden you think ‘hold on, I’m not actually a penalty taker’. It’s a long walk to that spot. You’re on your own, walking up to the spot with the ball in your hand. I just went for as much power as I could find when I took the shot. 

“The atmosphere’s electric for 120 minutes, and then when the shootout comes you can hear a pin drop. I do wonder whether it makes a difference if the fans keep making noise, whether it takes a bit of pressure off. But people handle it differently.” 

On Jordan Pickford  

“I’d have to say Jordan Pickford has been the standout player for me so far for England in this tournament. I’ve been really impressed with him so far.  

“I know people will say he’s not had that much to do because he’s not conceded a goal, but he’s right on his game. His concentration levels are there, his distribution has been spot on so far, and he’s done a job when he’s been called upon. 

“His decision making has been brought into question over the past few years, but he really looks the part at the minute for me.” 

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