The likes of Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka may not be seen on the backs of as many fans' England shirts as Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard in Brazil, but considering the crucial role they have played in booking their spot at the FIFA World Cup™, they arguably deserve to.
Roy Hodgson's side made it through European qualification with the joint tightest defence on the continent, conceding just four goals in the process of topping Group H, and now Chelsea regular Cahill is feeling he is no longer seen as an unexpected face at the top table in world football. “I feel a lot more experienced,” he said following the 3-0 warm-up win over Peru on Friday. “I feel I know the role a lot better, I feel that I'm kind of accepted on this stage and I still want to keep learning and pushing forward.
“Since I've come to Chelsea I've enjoyed it, it's gone really well for me, and I can't get wait to get started in my first major competition with England, which will be very exciting,” said the former Bolton Wanderers man. He is now sizing up two final preparation games against fellow World Cup participants Ecuador and Honduras in Miami, USA, before the squad make a beeline for Brazil, where they will meet opening Group D opponents Italy in Manaus on 14 June.
I feel that I'm kind of accepted on this stage and I still want to keep learning and pushing forward.
One of the key reasons for England's miserly defence is the partnership he has formed with fellow centre-back Phil Jagielka since Hodgson took over, which has seen the Three Lions yet to register a defeat when they've both been on the field. “We have a good understanding, it's come from playing a few games together, as it always does,” Cahill reflected. “You don't all of a sudden hit it off with someone, but I feel we hit it off quite quickly and there's definitely an understanding in each other's game.
“We've got exciting attacking players, so everyone pays their money to go and watch players take players on, do what Daniel [Sturridge] did and whip one into the top corner from 25 yards, that's what people like to see. But we go about our business quietly at the back, we work hard to keep goals out and I think it's going well. We're proud of our record, but we want to build on that and take it into the World Cup where it counts.”
They both went about the work a little less quietly in the opposing box against Peru too, as both got on the scoresheet to seal the win as England left home soil on a high. However, Cahill insists the real expectations on them will be at the other end of the field, and with the small margin for error that football with Chelsea and the UEFA Champions League demands, he feels the World Cup poses a challenge he can step up to.
“In terms of our job there's pressure in every game you play, near enough. I think just going back to the experience has probably helped me but I'm pleased at the minute and I'm looking forward to the World Cup and in terms of preparation I think the first game went great.”
England face Ecuador on 4 June, followed by Honduras on 12 June.