Call it the quirk of the aggregator cab provider or a typing error but instead of heading for England’s training session on Friday, the taxi reached Al Janoub stadium. Getting lost in a foreign land on World Cup duty is not unusual but given that the destination was not very far and the highways smooth enough to burn rubber, it wasn’t long before the taxi was cruising through a residential area of low-slung houses with deep driveways and into the Al Wakrah Sports Complex.
England’s training pitch is surrounded by single-tier stands with bands of seats in Argentina blue and others so blindingly white that they dazzled in the post-noon sun. A heat shack, which is what the players call it, has been set up next to the pitch with ice baths. The heat, Aaron Ramsdale said, was not unexpected even though at this time of the year England players are used to “dark nights and dark days.” But “adapting to it quickly will be the difficult thing.”
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The one thing he doesn’t need adapting to is Al Rihla, the official ball of the 2022 World Cup. He trained with it at the “last camp” before the World Cup and also at Arsenal because of their link with Adidas. “This seems better for goalkeepers as well as for strikers,” he said.
It’s been some story for Ramsdale, the keeper of the Premier League this term with seven clean sheets, his team in pole position. Four years ago, when England were on way to the first World Cup semi-final since 1990, he was on loan to Chesterfield and watching the games at a bar in Spain. “These are times when you have ‘pinch yourself moments’,” he said.
And yet, it is Jordan Pickford who is the designated No. 1. “I’m not going to sit here and say I don’t want to play. And it will be difficult to just flip the switch of being No. 1 to two or 3. But I have done it before.” There is great bonding between the goalkeeping group, he said. “We are training like No. 1 at the minute and it will be difficult for two others to flip the switch. It is something me and Popey (Nick Pope), and little less Jordan, have done before. Whoever gets that first game will have full support from the group and in tournament football, anything can happen. You just got to be ready.”
That he has “learnt his trade in difficult moments” helped Ramsdale get Bukayo Saka to overcome the disappointment of missing the penalty in the Euros final. Signed by Arsenal from Sheffield United after they were relegated, Ramsdale, 24, said: “Now, I am learning the side of the game where I am towards or on top of the table, playing in bigger games, in Europe, being in England squad. But I have been able to see from the other side. (I have realised) it’s a game of football. If I had been too emotionally involved in football, I would have struggled to mentally carry on. So, it is something which I really needed. Now, I am sitting here with the strong backbone which fundamentally is my base,” he said.