Belfast Telegraph

Henderson is England's unsung hero

By Steven Davis

England players will be on a high in training ahead of Sunday's game against Panama after defeating Tunisia 2-1 on Monday night.

I wrote last week how important it was for England to start well in this year's World Cup and they did just that, scoring the winner late on through Harry Kane.

It's a victory that will give the squad confidence and they will look to back it up with three more points from the Panama fixture.

Overall, I felt the performance was encouraging, but the most important thing was to get a positive result.

Before England played we saw how difficult it was for the bigger nations in the first round of fixtures, with holders Germany losing and Brazil and Argentina drawing 1-1 despite both going in front.

It's vital to get that second goal because when the score is only 1-0, there is always hope for the opposition to earn a draw.

What was impressive about England was after Tunisia equalised Kane's early goal they kept going and found a winner.

Rightly so, there was much discussion about Kane netting twice. As I said in my first World Cup column, Kane's influence will be crucial for England and he showed how much in their group opener.

Another man who was the subject of much debate after the Tunisia game was Jordan Henderson and his role in the side.

I've come up against Jordan in the Premier League and he's very athletic and has a good range of passing, and I thought he showed that against Tunisia.

At different times during his career I believe he has come in for unfair criticism, possibly because of the big boots he had to fill and the responsibilities he had to take on getting the captaincy after Steven Gerrard left Liverpool.

He was never going to be another Steven Gerrard, for starters because they are different players.

When he signed for Liverpool he did so for a lot of money, but he was still only a young player and he had a lot of growing to do. I think he has started to fulfil the potential he always had.

Let's be clear about it, you don't become the captain of Liverpool and play as many games as he has for the club if you don't have ability. Straight away that tells you he has a lot about him.

With criticism, the best way to respond to it is to go out and put in strong performances and I think he is doing that.

Over time I feel Liverpool fans have grown to appreciate the role he plays for the team, and he was a vital cog in the success they had in reaching the Champions League final in the season just gone.

And now he has a vital role to play with England in the World Cup. Gareth Southgate gave him the nod for the opening game and he didn't let his manager down.

I feel with the deeper midfield role that he plays that sometimes he can go a little bit unnoticed.

For players within the team, they realise what he does, but when people are watching games and you do the nitty gritty work it doesn't get attention.

Managers and team-mates appreciate the job he does and if he can continue to marry his work ethic and pressing together with the range of passing he is capable of, I think he will get the praise he deserves from everyone.

So far I've been really enjoying the World Cup. Already there have been some big moments, and the first big game on paper between Portugal and Spain, which ended 3-3, was a great appetiser of what's to come in the competition, especially with Cristiano Ronaldo hitting a brilliant free-kick to complete his hat-trick and earn his side the draw.

A match with that quality and drama early on really helps people get into the World Cup.

The last man to score a hat-trick against Spain was my mate David Healy when Northern Ireland beat them 3-2 at Windsor Park in 2006, so Ronaldo was following in the footsteps of a special striker!

Belfast Telegraph

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