England midfielder Phil Foden felt pressure to perform after boss Gareth Southgate gave the people what they wanted by starting him in the crunch World Cup game with Wales.
After Southgate’s side laboured to a 0-0 draw against the United States on Friday, where Foden was an unused substitute, there was growing clamour for the Manchester City star to be given a role in the Group B decider on Tuesday.
Southgate gave the 22-year-old his first World Cup start and he duly delivered, winning the free-kick from which Marcus Rashford scored to give England the lead and then adding a second shortly after, on the way to England’s 3-0 win over their local rivals.
After such an outcry to be selected, Foden was happy to be able to produce the goods that helped set up a last-16 tie with Senegal.
“It is hard not to hear what everyone is saying but at the same time I try not to read too much and just try to be me and be humble and work hard,” he said on England’s YouTube channel.
“I felt a little bit of pressure going into the game to be honest because everyone was pushing for me to play. I just tried to remember to relax and play my own football.
“I was raring to get the start and thanks to Gareth, he started me against Wales. I thought that all the wingers had scored and ‘when is it going to be my chance’? So to get the opportunity to play in such a big game and to score was extra special.
“It was one of the best feelings I have ever had in my career. You could see by my celebration, it meant so much. I expect more from myself, I expect more goals so to get in at the back post as a winger is what you always what to see.”
Foden, who was part of the England Under-17s side that won the World Cup in 2017, is one of many talented players that Southgate can call upon, with Jack Grealish, Buyako Saka, Rashford and Raheem Sterling also vying for a place.
The midfielder believes the strength of the squad will give England a real shot of winning in Qatar.
“You can see the balance right through the team, it is not just the attackers doing well, Harry Maguire and John Stones have done brilliantly defending as well, it is a full team effort,” he said.
“A lot of different players have played but every time they have put on the England shirt, they have done the best they can. It is good to have that competition and everyone is ready to go – it’s important.
“To win a World Cup you don’t just have a strong XI, you have people that can come off the bench and change it, that’s what we have here. We have so much talent on the bench so it is important.”
England’s reward for topping Group B is a last-16 tie with Senegal on Sunday night.
Foden added: “There’s no easy game, you can see that by the group how tough USA was and Iran as well going on to beat Wales, it just goes to show there are no easy games.
“We don’t really know them too much, we just have to sit down and review them and be ready for the game.”