- England's Freddie Woodman discusses defeat of Mexico
- The goalkeeper looks ahead to Italy re-match in semi-final
- Heaps praise on team-mates "willing to put their body on the line"
The final phases of ten-man England’s 1-0 win over Mexico were perfectly reflected by coach Paul Simpson. “We defended for our lives when we had to. At the end we had to dig in, with backs against the wall.”
Fortunately for the Young Lions, that wall they were pressed up against for the final stages was one Freddie Woodman.
Mexico finished the game with almost twice the number of attempts on goal but, through force of will and determination, the Newcastle United goalkeeper and Co kept their clean sheet to reach a first FIFA U-20 World Cup semi-final for almost a quarter of a century. But Woodman, whose humility quickly became apparent, was not about to accept the plaudits.
“It’s easy for me when you have a great set of lads in front of you, ten guys willing to put their body on the line and defend,” he told FIFA.com. “A clean sheet looks good for a goalkeeper, but it’s about the boys in front that make my job easy.”
— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) June 5, 2017
But, through the melee of scrambles and saves, Woodman stood a pillar of calm among the nervous Cheonan storm. “I work hard on staying in control of my emotions and keeping focussed on the game,” he explained. “We knew they were going to pile on the pressure, we knew they were going to throw everything at us as it’s the quarter-final of the World Cup, we knew they were going to give it everything.”
Even after all that, though, the 6ft 3in stopper’s self-assessment on his performance does not stretch beyond “it was ok,” accompanied by a modest laugh. But this seems par for the course from a No1 intent on looking outside of his penalty area, at “the lads in front of me” who “worked their socks off”, as the key elements.
When asked to examine his own strengths, you are met by an unassuming 20-year-old who would much rather differ to the opinions of others, rather than assess himself. At a push, “good looking?” accompanied by another laugh, is as far as he will go.
Great result ! Into the semi finals #U20WC
— Freddie Woodman (@41Woodman41) June 5, 2017
However, he paints a picture of a calm and content individual at the base of England's flourishing side. "[As a goalkeeper] you’re on your own most of the time and I quite like my own company, you’re just there on your own with your own thoughts. It’s nice sometimes."
With a crucial last-16 penalty save to his name and having only conceded twice – one a freak own goal – the role of the keeper from Croydon, who lists his grandad as his role model in life, in helping his side into the final four cannot be underestimated.
It will be a familiar foe to meet them there, too. Italy knocked England out of the UEFA European Under-19 Championships at the very same stage a year ago, with Woodman beaten twice in a 2-1 defeat. “It hurt at the time but we had to quickly move on,” he recalled. “But there will be no looking back at that game.
“We’ll just approach it as the semi-final of the World Cup. No revenge, we’re just looking forward to another game, another good opponent to play and a chance to get into a World Cup final.”