JOE HART insists he has the mental fortitude to cope with being England’s number one at a World Cup.
England have had some fine goalkeepers in recent times, but many of them will always be remembered for the sloppy goals they let in on the international stage.
David Seaman won 75 caps, but he will always be remembered for letting in Ronaldhino’s speculative long-range lob at the 2002 World Cup.
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Scott Carson was blamed for England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 thanks to his gaffe against Croatia while David James could never escape his Calamity James moniker despite 13 years’ international service.
For Carson, Green and Seaman, their gaffes proved terminal.
They barely played for England again.
Hart was sat on the bench that night in Bloemfontein and he knows the same could happen to him in Brazil.
“He had a bad moment, which we all have,” the England goalkeeper said.
“That’s the nature of being a goalkeeper. Robert understands that, I understand it.”
Hart may have not let in a howler for England yet, but made a few big mistakes for Manchester City last season.
The England goalkeeper made errors against Bayern Munich, Chelsea Aston Villa.
He lost his place in the City team, but never lost faith in his own abilities.
Hart returned to the City team two months later and then he put on a number of sterling displays to help his team win the Premier League.
“Goalkeeper is a position that requires (mental strength),” Hart added.
“And if you don’t (have it), there’s a good chance you’ll get trampled to the wayside.
“It’s a position where you need to be strong and focused.”
Although City manager Manuel Pellegrini decided to take Hart out of the firing line last autumn, England coach Roy Hodgson never considered taking such a step.
Hodgson started Hart against Germany in November and he has played in all but one of the England friendlies that have followed.
Hodgson’s support, and that of his team-mates at City, did not go unnoticed by Hart, who feels he actually benefited from being dropped.
“I’d like to think I am a better keeper and person for it,”
he said. “Roy’s backing was important, of course, and everyone at City was fantastic too.
“It means a lot to have both your club and country behind you.”
Barring illness or injury, Hart will start England’s World Cup opener tomorrow in the sweltering heat of Manaus, where England landed yesterday after a three-and-a-half-hour flight from Rio.
He has looked sharp and determined in training, repelling the fierce volleys that England’s vocal goalkeeping coach Dave Watson has been firing at him at the Urca military base in Rio this week.
Ben Foster and Fraser Forster are a long way behind Hart in terms of quality and experience, but he believes he cannot afford to take the World Cup lightly.
He said: “I haven’t thought ‘come through it and now everything’s fine’. I’ve got to keep working hard.
“City can potentially (buy) whoever they want and I totally understand that, so I need to be at that level to keep my place.
“And I’m playing for England, one of the greatest nations in football history.”
After being ignored by Fabio Capello for the 2010 World Cup, Hart finally got his chance to represent England at a major tournament two years later in Euro 2012.
The City stopper could not prevent England from exiting the tournament in the quarter-finals to tomorrow’s opponents Italy, who won 4-2 on penalties in Kiev.
Hart stuck his tongue out at Andrea Pirlo as he ran up to take his penalty, but the Italian embarrassed England’s No 1 with a clever chip.
“That was how I saw the best way to win us the shoot-out,”
“It wasn’t, but at the time it felt like it was. I don’t think it made any difference but I’ll never regret how it was.
“He did what he thought he needed to do for his country, I did what I thought was best for mine.”
Hart has studied every one of Italy’s penalty takers on his Ipad in recent weeks so he is prepared if the opposition win a spot-kick on tomorrow.
It may well end up being Mario Balotelli who takes Italy’s penalties, which is bad news for Hart, who always struggled to keep out the AC Milan striker’s attempts in training. “He’s a phenomenal penalty-taker,” Hart said.