Joe Hart may not have played in a major, senior tournament before but after the dramatic final day of the Premiership season last month he believes he is prepared for anything that could hit his England team during the European Championships in Poland and the Ukraine which begin next week.
The Manchester City and first choice national goalkeeper is still in a state of disbelieving shock as he recalls the final few injury time minutes of City’s game against QPR at the Etihad Stadium, a passage of time that saw City score twice to beat the Londoners and wrench the Premiership title out of neighbours Manchester United’s clasp.
“I was a lost soul at 2-1 down,” he admitted, after keeping another clean sheet at Wembley on Saturday in England’s 1-0 win over Belgium. “I didn’t know what to do. I was on the pitch but I had no input whatsoever over what was going on.
“When Edin (Dzeko) scored I thought we might get one chance but the way things had gone I thought someone would block it. And then it went in and I don’t really know what happened. I was just a fan on the pitch willing the ball to go in the goal and when it did all hell broke loose.
“Football-wise it was the worst, and then the best that can happen to anybody. I’ve watched it a couple of times since because I wanted to know what had happened. I’d like to think it has prepared me for all events. It will never happen again but it has taught me to deal with whatever comes my way.”
That includes success or failure with England at Euro 2012, a tournament that pitches them in a testing group with France, whom they play first on June 11th, then Sweden and finally the Ukraine on their own turf.
The 25-year-old knows little serious success with England as a player, but plenty of failure as a fan.
“We’re going to the championships because we want to win,” he explained. “We want to bring something back for our supporters. I know how much it means because I was one of them. Any time England played I was a massive fan. I used to look forward to every tournament and it hurt when England went out or didn’t play well. I followed them with my heart and willed them to win.”
This time the expectation levels seem lower than usual, but Hart insists spirit borne out of domestic and European success is high within the squad.
“City won the league, Chelsea the Champions League and Man United have won it all before so we’ve all got plenty to talk about and it’s given many members of the squad a great lift. The mood in camp is very positive. Everyone’s looking out for each other and wanting to win.
“We face three exciting games in our group and there are no guarantees, but I think if we go into the games in good spirits and united as a squad, as we are now, then we can do well.”
First up is France on Monday week, and this, almost certainly, means Hart will face his City teammate Samir Nasri. They have already played out parts of the game back at the City training ground, including penalties.
“The French are in the same position as us. They feel very strongly about the European Championships and as Samir now plays in England he can talk about it from both sides. It’s a good, friendly rivalry and it will seem strange lining up against him because you get used to someone as your teammate. We’ll see who wins.
“I’d enjoy it if he gets a penalty against me. We’ve already spoken about it and lived it out at Carrington hundreds of times. I’d definitely speak to him about it in the game, too.”
Sledging during penalties is an area Hart has previous in. Indeed his yellow card for sledging Swedish players during England’s Under 21 semi-final winning penalty shoot-out in 2009 cost him a place in the final.
This season he has tried to put off Chelsea’s Frank Lampard, and failed, and Swansea’s Scott Sinclair, who subsequently missed. Hart says that he may well be up to similar tricks in Euro 2012 too.
“I’ve never said anything disrespectful,” he argued. “I’m just letting people know that I know what they’re going to do. If I think I know which way the player is going in the tournament next week I’ll do it. I’ll try and get as close as I can so they know I’m big. My French, Swedish and Ukrainian is less than average, but hopefully they’ll get the message.
“If it’s within the rules then I can do it. The yellow card back in 2009 hasn’t put me off because I’m sticking to the rules. And if we get to a shoot-out I’d also put myself forward, one million per cent, to take one.”
Hart’s confidence is borne out of becoming evidently England’s number one goalkeeper, a Premiership winner with City and receiving the nod from City boss Roberto Mancini who preferred him to established international Shay Given.
“It was a big call and I’m really grateful to him. I can only repay him by training hard and performing the best I can.”
It seems to be working for City. Now new England boss Roy Hodgson will be hoping his last line of defence carries on in the white of England, where he left off in the sky blue of City.