Hurst optimistic about England's World Cup hopes
PUBLISHED: 18:00 18 June 2018
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World Cup hero Sir Geoff Hurst is excited about England's chances at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
With Gareth Southgate’s squad about to begin their campaign against Tunisia, Hurst spoke of his natural optimism and how he thinks the team will do well.
He said: “As an ex-player and fan, I can only look at the team with some optimism. I’m not sitting where I am today without it.
“It’s a well-balanced squad. We’ve got three very young goalkeepers. He has made a couple of quite tough but brave decisions in leaving Jack Wilshire out, but there’s concern about taking players that are injured.
“In a short space of time we’re going to have to play games close together so much of that has been difficult. In terms of Joe Hart, he hasn’t played regularly for West Ham towards the end of the season and I go back to my time to be selected – you had to be playing for your club.
“That’s changed quite a bit over the years but that was one of the main criteria and Joe unfortunately wasn’t playing for West Ham in the last few games, so it’s a tough decision, but overall I’d probably say that perspective may well be right the one.
“We’ve got a young team but I’m optimistic. I was optimistic before the last tournament but it’s got to be better. We need to get it better because we’ve had two tournaments where Brazil (2014), two games and out, and the Iceland game (at Euro 2016) I’ve never seen a game like that.
“Hopefully the spirit’s good and they perform well, we want to see them perform well and get good results.
“I’m optimistic as usual that we’ll do well, I can’t think any other way. It’s got to be ill of us guys to be negative about the squad as a player and a person, I’m not going to go with any negativity, and I think we’ll do well.”
Tottenham striker Harry Kane captains England, having maintained his excellent scoring record in the Premier League last season.
Kane, 24, has 13 goals in 24 appearances for the national team, while Hurst managed to find the net 24 times in 49 games for England.
He added: “Harry Kane’s fantastic. He has proved it year in, year out, the goals he’s scored regularly. Not only for Spurs of course but for the national team.
“I’ve bumped into him a couple of times in the last few months and he comes across as a very, very good and strong character and a nice character, and a likable character and I think his leadership will help bond the team together.
“One of the most important aspects of winning a World Cup is not just the quality of players but the team spirit, the togetherness that you achieve over that month of the World Cup itself, or over a month if you look at the build-up as well.
“They’re very key ingredients and selecting him as a captain is a very, very good choice. Not just as a player, but very important in the kind of character he is, and I think he’ll be a good leader.
“We did something silly for Sport Relief. He was doing something separately with Jonny Wilkinson and I was doing something with Dele Alli and Eric Dier, and I bumped into him, we said a quick hello.
“I did promote Walking Football with him with Barclays a year or so ago and in that game of walking football he played and I played, I think he scored about seven or eight goals in two of the games, I actually fell over playing walking football, so was totally embarrassed of course.”
As for the rest of the England squad, Hurst likes the look of the mix and wants them to make names for themselves, as the class of 1966 did so memorably.
“Looking at the squad I count many as a newcomer really, but we have some experienced players,” he said.
“There’s huge opportunities for somebody in the squad, in the team, to come and make a name for himself in whatever they do, winning a game, scoring a goal, playing really well in any one of the games, and if they do that it’ll really bring their career to another level.
“If they produce it for England in a World Cup tournament – and I’d argue there’s 22 players, youngish most of them, Dele Alli for example is 21, the same age as Alan Ball in the World Cup final – there’s lots of scope and opportunity to come and produce performances that we will remember for a long time.”
As for who the main contenders to win the World Cup might be, Hurst looked at the usual suspects ahead of the tournament getting underway, as well as England’s main group rivals.
HHe added: “Of course Brazil, Argentina, Germany. In terms of dark horses I think you’re looking at Belgium. They’ve got some of the best players of any squad playing senior football in our league, like Eden Hazard, who are fantastic and absolutely top of their game.
“If you picked Belgium as a dark horse you could probably agree with that, but they’ve got a lot of really good players, so it would not be a surprise if they went quite further.
“Having said all that, I wouldn’t be uncomfortable about us playing them, I wouldn’t be uncomfortable about us saying we could beat them, and that’s what we’ve got to look at, because if we can qualify top of the group, that gives you a slightly easier possibility in the next round.
“You finish second you’re going to finish up with possibly one of the big boys who finish top of their group. So beating Belgium early on, as tough as it might seem, could give us a big advantage to having another crack in a later round at a team slightly weaker in the draw.”
*Geoff Hurst is supporting Prostate Cancer UK’s Football March for Men which takes place on Sunday July 22. See prostatecanceruk.org/footballmarch.