LONDON (AP) — As the oldest member of the England squad, Kyle Walker will have needed every minute of the extended lie-in until lunchtime on Thursday.
It was a late return to the team’s St. George’s Park base — with Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho controlling the music on the bus north from Wembley Stadium.
The plan for Thursday night was just playing the Fortnite video game with goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Walker will need to be well-rested for Sunday after being key to England reaching its first final in 55 years, with Italy standing between the team and the European Championship title.
Seeing the enthused young squad, hungry to pull on the jersey with the Three Lions, takes the 31-year-old Walker back to grimmer times with the national team after 60 appearances over a decade.
“When you put on an England shirt, definitely in the past four years, it means something now,” Walker said.
Walker thinks back to England’s Euro 2016 loss to Iceland.
“Still to this day, it haunts me,” he said on the England team’s online video stream. “That’s the lowest moment of my career by far.”
How different on Wednesday when the 2-1 extra time win over Denmark sealed a spot in the final and the fans were singing “so good” with gusto from “Sweet Caroline” after the final whistle.
It ensured another tournament didn’t end in the semifinals like in 2018 at the World Cup.
“I think now we’re a lot more mature,” said the Premier League champion from Manchester City. “A lot of us have won a lot more things. A lot of us have played in a lot of big games and we can make the game better. And even the fans are understanding.”
One moment sticks out from the Denmark game.
“Last night is the first time I’ve probably heard the England fans shouting, ‘Ole. Ole,’ because we were keeping the ball.
“That’s about game management … we are 2-1 up, what are we going at them for? Scoring 3-1 doesn’t make us go through (more) — 2-1 is fine. Now let’s keep the ball and make sure we don’t do anything stupid and save the legs for the final. Little steps, little factors like that this team has learned over the last four years.”
It means playing Italy in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley with the chance to win the team’s first trophy since the 1966 World Cup. And perhaps it’s a position Walker didn’t imagine he would be in after being dropped in 2019 by coach Gareth Southgate and missing the games in September, October and December.
Walker has shown his versatility by playing in a back three of four, benefiting from the guidance at his club from manager Pep Guardiola.
“That’s just become my game over the recent years, especially playing under Pep at Man City,” Walker said. “The knowledge of my game, I think, has improved. I’m not blowing my own trumpet here, but I think I’ve become a lot more wiser in my decision making and when’s good for me to go forward and when I can use my energy elsewhere. And it’s just what I can offer to the team.”
And he’s hoping to stick around for some time to go — despite his age.
“I might not be technically gifted,” Walker said. “But I guarantee I’m 31 and I will still run more than anyone.”
Hopefully, though, there will be some rest after Sunday.
“I want to win the final,” he said. “I’ve played a game every three days for a year now. I’d love a little vacation somewhere.”
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