Manchester City defender 'extremely proud' of England team for reaching semi-finals. They can finish third if they beat Belgium in a play-off in Saint Petersburg on Saturday. John McAuley reports from Moscow
Kyle Walker: England's World Cup performances have brought the nation together
Kyle Walker says he is proud of “bringing the nation together” as England look to ease the pain on missing out on the World Cup final by finishing third.
Gareth Southgate’s side were defeated 2-1 in extra time in the semi-final by Croatia on Wednesday, despite taking a fifth-minute lead through Kieran Trippier's free kick. However, Ivan Perisic equalised not long after the hour in Moscow before Mario Mandzukic struck in the 109th minute to break England’s hearts.
Thus, England came up just short in their first World Cup semi-final in 28 years, although Walker believes the run in Russia has restored fans’ belief in the national team, especially after their humiliating loss to Iceland in the last 16 at Euro 2016. On Wednesday, England supporters stayed behind after the match to serenade their players.
“We’ve shown character, desire, we’ve brought the nation together,” Walker said. “We’ve brought England fans back in love with the English team. I was there in France, at the Iceland game, and it was completely different to that.
"For them to still be singing when we’re seeing friends and families, chanting our names and singing the manager’s name, is completely different. And we need to take full credit for that. We’ve changed that. People are going out and celebrating it and that’s what football should be about. So hats off to us, but unluckily we couldn’t bring it home for them. Hopefully there’s time in the future.
“We’ve built a house here now on a good foundation. Before it was probably built on sand and now it’s got a good foundation. So we just need to build on that and make sure we can build an empire from it.”
Asked what was the biggest positive England could take from the World Cup campaign, Walker replied: “For me it’s by proving people wrong. There’s nothing better than when
people are writing you off and people are saying you’re not fit to wear the shirt or they’re slagging certain people off.
“It’s kind of saying ‘there you go, have that back at you’. We do it for ourselves as
well. To represent your country, I can’t tell you how proud I am, to share the dressing room with those players. It means so much to us. We’ve all grown up watching England and to represent your country at a semi-final of a World Cup, there’s no better feeling.”
Walker said the players were “absolutely gutted” to not have made the final and that he thought progression was “written in the stars” following Trippier’s early goal. Yet he paid tribute to Southgate for helping turn around the national team.
“The man’s a gentleman," Walker said. "That’s the best way to describe him. He’s lived in our shoes. He relates to us massively. He knows what to say at the right times and he makes you feel like you’re the best player in the world. He gives you that confidence.
"He needs to take the most credit out of every one of us. We’re the guys that’s running on the pitch, but he’s the backbone of this team. He’s made sure everyone’s stuck together through good and bad moments and made sure our feet’s on the floor. I can’t put into words how much credit he deserves for this.”
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England will now take on Belgium in Saint Petersburg on Saturday in the battle for third place. The two met in the groups stages, with the latter winning 1-0.
“There’s still something massively to play for: to be the third-best team in the world, it’s a massive thing,” Walker said. “And who would have thought that come the start of the tournament? Everyone was writing us off, everyone didn’t have much expectation about us.
“To get to there and be in a third-place play-off it’s fantastic. We need to take that. There’s a big pat on the back for us and we’ve still got a very important job come Saturday to go and beat the Belgians and kind of get the bragging rights over them because they got one over us in the group stage.”