Krakow, Poland – If England are to confound the gloomy pre-tournament predictions of an early flight home from Euro 2012, it is likely that Joe Hart will have something to do with it.
After only 18 caps, the 25-year-old Manchester City goalkeeper has emerged as something of a talismanic figure for England since establishing himself in the No.1 jersey following the 2010 World Cup.
The 6ft 5in shot-stopper has only tasted defeat once while on England duty, and has yet to be on the losing side for England in a competitive match.
His impressive displays for club and country have seen him anointed as the heir apparent to a proud English goalkeeping tradition that has produced the likes of Gordon Banks, Peter Shilton and David Seaman.
However while Hart's natural confidence shields him from the demons of self-doubt that can afflict so many goalkeepers, he believes he still has plenty to prove before he can mentioned in the same breath as Banks and company.
“Comparisons are easily made,” Hart says. “But when you break it down I've got an awful long way to go before I get close to them.
“I'm on my own journey as a goalkeeper. I've got 18 caps and I want to improve on that at every opportunity, which is first and foremost on Monday against France, and being the rock that England need.”
Hart is hopeful however that he can play a decisive role in an England campaign which has been destabilised by a chaotic build-up which included the suspension of Wayne Rooney and the resignation of manager Fabio Capello before a raft of late injuries decimated the squad.
“Anything that's ever been won, or when (a team) has gone far who shouldn't have done, has been to do with how the goalkeeper's performed or how the back four have performed,” Hart said.
“But it's a team effort. You can't get anywhere with just one player playing well; you need quality all over the field.”
Growing up, Hart's heroes were Seaman and Manchester United and Denmark legend Peter Schmeichel. Banks, and his iconic save against Pele in the 1970 World Cup, also feature in his mental scrapbook.
“I'm not going to lie and say I've seen a great deal (of Banks). The coverage wasn't then what it was today, but he's spoken of so highly around the world goalkeeping wise that he's obviously someone I know as much about as I can,” he said. “We all know the save. For someone to produce that it's not a one-off.”
“For me when I was growing up it was obviously David Seaman, and obviously Peter Schmeichel. He took the game by storm and won everything.”
There is an echo of Schmeichel's self-confidence in Hart's unflappable approach to goalkeeping, but the City star is quick to downplay the impression that he has an unshakeable belief in his own ability.
“It's not a case of me thinking 'I am great, I am untouchable'. It's just the thought that I know what I can do, I know what I'm required to do, and I enjoy doing it. That's maybe the way it looks. I enjoy every side of football.
“I'm just looking to enjoy it and keep taking opportunities that people keep giving me.”
Meanwhile Hart is looking forward to thwarting City teammate Samir Nasri when he is expected to line up for France in Donetsk next week.
“We've talked about it. We can't avoid it,” Hart said.
“It's hard because one minute you're hammering each other – saying 'This is gonna happen' and the next minute you're having a serious chat with each other about how much respect you have for each other and each team's players.
“And then it turns into abuse. Just how young guys talk.” – Sapa-AFP