Euro 2016: England urged to deliver when it matters

Joe Hart has told his England team-mates they have not achieved anything yet despite their impeccable qualifying record.
England's Joe Hart.England's Joe Hart.
England's Joe Hart.

England will qualify for a major tournament with a 100 per cent record for the first time if they beat Estonia and Lithuania in their final two Euro 2016 qualifiers over the next five days.

England are the only nation to boast a record of eight qualifying wins from eight and they are also unbeaten in 13 matches.

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Hart believes that counts for little, however. The goalkeeper knows England will only be rated as a top side if they perform well in France next summer.

England's Theo Walcott, during a training session at St George's Park, yesterday.England's Theo Walcott, during a training session at St George's Park, yesterday.
England's Theo Walcott, during a training session at St George's Park, yesterday.

“We’re creating something good, but the real test is at the tournament,” said Hart.

“It’s all very well getting results in qualification – we’ve done that for years – but it’s about doing well in a tournament.”

England have flopped in all three tournaments Hart has been selected in.

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In 2010, they were humbled by Germany in the second round and they were eliminated by Italy on penalties at the same stage in 2012.

Then, last year, Hart was part of the England team that crashed out of the World Cup in Brazil without a win.

“Our ultimate aim is to go to the tournament next year and win it, but talk is cheap, as we’ve seen in the past,” Hart added.

“I’ve felt we could win every tournament I’ve been to, but we didn’t.

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“We’re talking about world-class level sport where there are other teams who prepare very well and their whole lives revolve around winning it. It’s difficult, but it’s down to us.

“We’ve got no excuses in terms of preparation and being put in the right place.

“We’ve won all our qualifying games and we’re going to look to win the tournament.”

Hart sat out Manchester City’s defeat against Tottenham two weeks ago because of a finger injury, but the 28-year-old is happy to play in both tomorrow’s game against Estonia and the trip to Lithuania three days later.

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“There are still decisions to be made but I personally want to play every game,” he said.

Hart has also been playing with a back injury of late, but insists the problem is not serious.

“I had a problem earlier in the week,” Hart said.

“I think everyone plays through something.

“I’m flying around and smashing off the floor every day, that’s me and every now and then it’s going to happen.”

After England’s final two qualifiers, they will come up against stiffer tests.

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The Football Association (FA) has set up friendlies against France and Spain in November, as well as an away trip to Germany in March.

It is possible that the FA will take England away from Wembley for at least one other friendly before the European Championship begins.

Hart says the players would accept such a move.

“We’d have no complaints,” the he said.

“You hear the old line that you’d do anything to play for England. I’d be happy to play anywhere for England.

“I love playing at Wembley Stadium but I love the Premier League and the different grounds and all the atmospheres they offer too.

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“If that would give us a better chance then that is something I would be open to.”

Theo Walcott meanwhile, said last night that he feels a better, stronger player for his long spell on the sidelines, with the England forward ready to fill in for all-time top scorer Wayne Rooney.

A month on from usurping Sir Bobby Charlton’s 45-year Three Lions scoring record, an ankle complaint could prevent the Manchester United captain adding to his tally at Wembley tomorrow.

Walcott knows a thing or two about injuries having missed most of 2014 with a cruciate knee ligament problem, making him all the more determined to take his chance to lead the line if called upon in the England captain’s absence.

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“Being Wayne, he always wants to represent his country,” said Walcott.

“If he can’t – and he’s obviously got a little knock, we’ll know tomorrow if he’s able to train – the manager will make the decision.

“He is always here and it’s great to see him.”

Put to Walcott he appears ready for such an opportunity, he said enthusiastically: “Definitely. I am buzzing, to be honest.

“I am always excited to come away with England, especially this time. I feel good and think it is great opportunity to actually give me a chance.”

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“I think I have come back an even better and stronger player. I was tested mentally as well through this injury and not many players would be able to cope with what I’ve dealt with, to be honest.

“I’m ready and I just want to take off now.”