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England's best

Fifa
Saturday, June 07, 2014

Arguably England's best-ever goalkeeper, Peter Shilton undoubtedly ranks as one of greatest players to have pulled on the Three Lions shirt.

Not only is Shilton his country's record cap-holder with 125 across 19 years, he has appeared at three successive FIFA World Cups — helping England achieve their best finish away from home by reaching the Italy 1990 semi-finals — and won back-to-back European Cups with Nottingham Forest on the way to over 1000 club appearances.

While his achievements are plentiful, Shilton also remains synonymous with England's defeat to Argentina at Mexico 1986, featuring the 'Hand of God' goal by Diego Maradona. His relationship with that iconic moment was discussed in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com that also covered his experiences at the World Cup and England's chances at Brazil 2014.

FIFA.com: Your first appearance at a World Cup was at Spain 1982. What are your memories of that?

Shilton: I had a good World Cup as we only let in one goal in five games and we went home on a league basis unbeaten. In a funny way that was quite disappointing and weird in a way, as we had not lost a game. Then of course 1986 was blighted the Hand of God situation and Italia 90, when we needed a bit of penalty shoot-out luck. Overall I feel my World Cup record was fairly good. Fabian Barthez holds the record for games played to goals conceded, but I probably would have got the record if it wasn't for Diego Maradona. My biggest disappointment in my career was actually not qualifying in 1973. Not to qualify for that World Cup and have to wait eight years at that point in my career was a massive blow.

Looking back to that Argentina game in 1986 and the 'Hand of God', how has it been being linked with such an infamous part of football history for so long?

Having had the successful career that I did, gets highlighted for all the wrong reasons. I do a lot of speaking around the world, and I do talk about that incident, people remember it and with the work I do it's not a bad thing. It's very disappointing in some ways that people do remember the incident.

FIFA.com: Can you still picture how the goal came about, or have repeatedly seeing the TV images of the past 28 years blurred the memory somewhat?

Shilton: No, no. I think Maradona just took a chance, he knew he wasn't getting the ball. In a situation like that everybody's just looking at the officials to give the right decision, which is just a free-kick, and Argentina don't lose anything because they get everyone back behind the ball. It's one of those situations that you just pray you are going to get a free-kick, carry on playing and keep the score 0-0. It was the most important goal in the game, the first goal, because it was a tight game up to then.

FIFA.com:And there was never any doubt?

Shilton: Yeah, I was going to just knock the ball away — I wasn't getting a totally clean punch — as Maradona was favourite for the ball and he was running in and I had to go from a standing position. I think the fact that he didn't head it and put it in with his hand tells the story that he knew I was going to get the ball and just took a chance, like any striker does. I think the England team and the country as a whole was cheated in that moment.

FIFA.com: The incident has become a bit of a long-running saga between you and Maradona since.

Shilton: I just think it's left a bad taste, because of the way he dealt with it after the game. I think after the game you should just say 'sorry, I got away with it really and the referee and linesman should have seen it'. That's the thing, Maradona never did that. It wasn't until recently that he actually admitted putting it in with his hand. These things happen, the referee's at fault and the linesman's at fault. I wouldn't blame Maradona for doing it, because Gary Lineker — who is one of the best sportsmen in the world — said he would have put it in with his hand, it's just one of those things strikers do. What I do find leaves a sour taste is his reaction after the game.

FIFA.com: What was it like seeing the second goal unfold, as when you saw Maradona pick the ball up inside his own half, I'm sure you weren't particularly anxious?

Shilton: I think mentally our team was really on a low, I think we'd realised we were 1-0 down after being cheated with a goal that should have been disallowed. I think mentally we were subdued and I do think that had an effect on the second goal. Although Maradona ran from the half-way line, in effect he shouldn't have even been allowed the ball. I think Glenn Hoddle, one of our players, was tackled around the waist by an Argentinian, then the ball broke to Maradona. I think after that moment he didn't actually beat too many people, I think he beat Terry Fenwick on the edge of the box - who had been booked - but his finish at the end was pure quality that you would expect from a world class player.

FIFA.com: Were you all driven by that game four years later?

Shilton: Yeah, definitely. It was going to be my last chance in a World Cup. You dream of winning a World Cup and want to do everything you can. I just think you look back on certain things. There was a game against Egypt, when they had a great chance at 0-0 and the player should have scored and you think if that had have gone in we would have gone home. Those are the little bits of luck that you get sometimes, and we also had that against Cameroon. Then you think your luck's in but unfortunately it just turned again against the Germans

FIFA.com: All three knockout games went to extra-time. Do you think that was starting to take its toll in the Germany game?

Shilton: No, I think the Germans, for the first time when I had ever played against them, were on the back foot in the last period of extra-time and were settling for penalties. I think we were really in the ascendancy. They are proven as the best in the world at taking penalties, they've got this attitude and this mentality. I only faced four penalties but every one was hit like a rocket into the corner, you just hope you're going to get a bit of luck. Stuart Pearce hit the ball almost straight at Illgner and Chris Waddle blazed it over the bar.

FIFA.com: Given the chance, would you have swapped your two European Cups for a World Cup?

Shilton: Oh, definitely. After last winning it in '66 at home — which I do feel was an advantage, but they still won it — to have gone and won it away from England would have been the ultimate. It just wasn't to be, you do your best and everything you can. There's only one World Cup and it's every four years, so it's not the easiest trophy to win.

FIFA.com: Is being part of the side to have England's best performance since 1966 a particular highlight of your career?

Shilton: You never like to lose semi-finals, but when we came back to England we had a massive crowd — I think two or three hundred thousand came out at Luton Airport. We thought we were just going to get into the cars, go to the hotel, then go home. We were astounded with the reaction of everybody, I think the whole country was very proud but we all looked at each other as if to say, 'What would have happened if we had won it?' But you can't change history, and I am proud about being the best we've ever done away from home, although I'm hoping the boys in this World Cup might better that.

FIFA.com: Are you optimistic about England's chances?

Shilton: Yeah, definitely optimistic. But for the first time I'm not 100 per cent sure about where it's going to go as Roy Hodgson has changed the squad around quite a bit and has got a lot of young talent in there, but also one or two players who haven't played in World Cups. And obviously we aren't used to the conditions in South America.

FIFA.com: How do you feel about England being dealt a tough group, with Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica?

Shilton: I think in a way it could be a blessing that we know we have to be on our A-game right from the word go. Italy in Manaus, that's probably the best time to play in the toughest conditions any team will face in the World Cup, and to play Italy. The first game is when we are going to be at our freshest so we may be able to cope with the conditions better than in the second or third game. Italy are also notoriously slow starters, I think.

FIFA.com: Any particular goalkeeper you're looking forward to seeing at this World Cup?

Shilton: I've always been a big fan of Buffon, but I hope he doesn't play well in the first game! I think the World Cup is the best time to judge the keepers. Chile's Claudio Bravo (against England at Wembley in 2013) looked like an international outfield player when the ball was passed back to him, he was passing the ball 30 or 40 yard balls into midfield. I just want to see if he's confident enough to do that in a World Cup.





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