Belfast Telegraph

I relish the challenge of fighting for England spot: Hart

 

By Simon Peach

England goalkeeper Joe Hart has been fighting for his place since the Sunday league days and is not about to stop ahead of the World Cup.

The 30-year-old is far and away the most experienced member of Gareth Southgate's squad, having made more than twice as many appearances as the next most capped player.

However, Hart is facing a fight for a place in the World Cup squad never mind a starting role after struggling for game-time and form on loan at West Ham.

But this is not the first time the 75-cap shot-stopper has faced adversity and he is ready to meet the challenge head on.

"It's no different to any moment that I've been playing," Hart said.

"Even when I was trying to get into my Sunday league team, it was the same script: people want to play football. That's no different to the one here.

"I'm not here to answer critics. I'm here to play football, enjoy what I do and try and help my team the best way I can."

Hart's position has looked precarious for a while, but Southgate has backed him to the hilt and last August insisted he remained England's best goalkeeper.

But his change in circumstances at West Ham has led the Three Lions boss to reassess his options, admitting at last week's squad announcement that "clearly the number one jersey is up for grabs".

"It was a long enough gap where we didn't really need to discuss it until recently," Hart said.

"He checked in, he likes to check on his players and see where we're at physically and mentally.

"I just answered the questions he had for me and luckily I found myself in the last game, and hopefully I can continue that for the rest of the season."

Hart is one of four goalkeepers selected for the upcoming friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy, joining Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford and uncapped Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope.

"He's done fantastic," Hart said of new comer Pope. "He's had a great season.

"I've spent two or three days with him now and he looks like a really strong keeper."

Pope, meanwhile, thought he would never play for England - but is now hoping to do so at this summer's World Cup.

The Burnley goalkeeper has been rewarded for an impressive season at Turf Moor with a place in Southgate's squad for the two friendlies.

With no clear first-choice keeper just three months before the World Cup in Russia, the 25-year-old has a strong chance to stake a claim.

"It's a day I never thought I'd see come and, now it has, it's massive elation for me and everyone close to me," Pope said.

"There's got to be only one number one. I want it to be me, who wouldn't? It's a massive honour.

"You've got to be hungry in football and you've got to be greedy as well. It's a new challenge and a challenge I want to take on."

Pope has taken a circuitous route to brink of an international cap via spells at Charlton Athletic, Welling, Cambridge, Aldershot, York and Bury.

He was then second choice at Burnley until injury to Tom Heaton, another on the fringes of international selection, saw him thrust into Premier League action earlier this season, and since then he's excelled.

Pope said: "I've played in some cold, dark leagues. It's a level - this national team - that you think is too far away almost.

"I feel like I've put in some hard yards and proven myself at those levels to try and get to this level. I don't think it's a fluke to get called up to the England squad."

Pope did spare a thought for his clubmate Heaton, who has much to do to force his way back into contention after six months on the sidelines with a shoulder injury.

He said: "The last six months are something I couldn't have foreseen happening.

"Tom going down was an opportunity for me and something that has blossomed into an England call-up."

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