NIZHNY NOVGOROD: On the eve of England’s World Cup quarter-final against Sweden, Gary Neville cut an excited figure. Doing punditry for ITV at the World Cup in Russia, the former Manchester United right-back was here at the media centre of the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on Friday a few hours ahead of the last-eight tie between France and Uruguay.
Most pundits working for the television stations have refused to give interviews and there was every chance Neville would do the same. But his reaction was entirely different when asked if he wanted to talk to a publication from Pakistan. “Which organisation?” he asked. When told it was Dawn he asked, “D-O-N, Don’?”
Once everything was cleared, he said he had no problem talking to Dawn. And it was pretty evident, though, when he began speaking, that his mind was already in Samara, where England face Sweden on Saturday.
“I’m obviously delighted with England and how they’re progressing and right now, key for me is how far we can go,” he told Dawn. “We think we can win it and I’m hoping this current crop goes further than any team that has ever gone on home soil. We’ve won the World Cup at home in 1996 but have never been able to do that away and we’re in a more comfortable side of the draw.”
Win against Sweden and England will face either Croatia or hosts Russia in the semi-finals. The other half of the draw has Brazil and Belgium along with France and Uruguay.
“It’s favourable for us,” he said. “The other side is of course is a difficult one considering the sides involved.”
Neville said the key for England’s run so far in the tournament was their great rate of converting from set-pieces. Of their nine goals so far, seven have come from the dead ball.
“We’ve scored most of our goals from set-pieces, which of course, is very English,” said Neville. “Our conversion from them hadn’t been so good recently but we’ve worked hard on that and really improved. That has been key and of course [captain and striker] Harry Kane has been the star for us with his goals and hopefully he will continue to show at the World Cup that he’s one of the best players around.”
Neville said Sweden would pose a tough test for England. “It wouldn’t be a pretty game since Sweden are a difficult side to play, very compact, very organised and they know what they do. It will be a difficult game but one which we can win with the players we have.”
Published in Dawn, July 07th, 2018