History teaches us that the toughest opponent England’s footballers will face tonight is themselves.
Time and again they’ve failed when World Cups start to get serious and the burden of emulating 1966 proves too heavy.
But one of the former Royal Marines brought in by Gareth Southgate to help his squad handle the mental pressure, believes this time they won’t flounder.
“I’ve got 100% confidence they won’t let the tension get to them” said Andy Grant, a 30-year-old Liverpudlian who was blown up in Afghanistan and was one of three ex-Marines amputees who spoke to the squad before they flew to Russia.
“They have the belief they can go on and win it, and I can see that self-confidence coming through.”
The first question he asked before giving his motivational speech at St George’s Park was if they felt they could win the World Cup.
“Raheem Sterling said ‘I genuinely believe we can and the whole squad feels the same.’ I think they’ve felt all along they would do very well. The public may have doubted them but they had a plan and it’s coming good.”
Grant, who became the world’s fastest single-leg amputee at 10km and won two golds at the Invictus Games, impressed on them that team spirit was crucial.
“I told them not to worry about the pressures back home but to focus on the guy to the left and the right of them. That fighting for each other would give them the mental strength needed to win.
“The camaraderie was already there. Ashley Young told me it was the best England squad he’s ever been in. There’s no cliques. Gareth has turned them into a brotherhood and it’s come across in the matches.”
He was especially proud when they won the penalty shoot-out as he’d told them to put their fears of missing into context.
“I spoke of the nerves I had before my leg was amputated. How it’s no good thinking about the worst. That they should only think of success.
“Hopefully our stories about stepping up to the plate for your country and not letting the negatives get the better of you have had an impact.”
The Liverpool fan gave all the players a copy of his book “You’ll Never Walk” (a reference to his leg tattoo which lost the word “Alone” in surgery) with some telling him on social media how it’s inspiring them.
And his message for the team tomorrow night? “Keep fighting for each other, doing what you do best and you’ll bring it home.”
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