March 20, 2018 / 6:32 PM / 6 months ago

Soccer-England goalie hopeful Pope says it's every man for himself

LONDON, March 20 (Reuters) - Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope has emerged as a late candidate to be England’s World Cup goalkeeper and said on Tuesday it was “every man for himself” in trying to make the plane to Russia.

Pope has been called up by manager Gareth Southgate for the first time after grabbing his chance when Burnley’s first-choice keeper Tom Heaton underwent shoulder surgery in September.

England’s regular goalkeeper Joe Hart is struggling for form having been dropped by West Ham United and while Stoke City’s Jack Butland and Everton’s Jordan Pickford are ahead of him in the queue, Pope has gained plenty of admirers.

England face the Netherlands on Friday and Italy next Tuesday as Southgate runs the rule over the players hoping to seal their spot in the World Cup squad.

“I have got to prove myself at this level,” Pope told a news conference on Tuesday. “I’ve come here to enjoy it and show what I am about. In football, you have to be hungry.

“There has got to be one number one. Come the World Cup there will be one goalkeeper who has that slot. There are eight games left of the Premier League season and it is every man for himself.”

Pope, 25, has done things the hard way, struggling to get a game at Charlton Athletic who loaned him out to various lower and minor league clubs before he impressed enough to sign for Burnley in 2016.

“It’s obviously a day I never thought I’d see come and, now it has, there’s massive elation for me and everyone close to me,” Pope said. “I’ve played in some cold, dark leagues.

“It’s a level, this national team, that you think is too far away almost. I’ve been lower than a snake’s belly.

“I feel as though I’ve put in the hard yards and proved myself at that level to try to get to this. It’s no fluke to be called up to the England squad.

“In football things change very quickly. It’s rarely set in stone. I hope it’s me (being England’s number one). It would be a massive honour.”

Pope has kept more clean sheets and conceded fewer Premier League goals than the other three goalkeepers in Southgate’s squad. In 27 Premier League appearances he has kept the ball out of his net 10 times. (Reporting by Martyn Herman Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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