at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Krakow, Poland – England winger Stewart Downing believes he has emerged a stronger player after being given a critical mauling during his debut season at Liverpool.
The 27-year-old was a controversial inclusion in Roy Hodgson's Euro 2012 squad after a difficult first year at Anfield which saw him contribute precisely zero goals or assists to Liverpool's league campaign.
Downing's difficulties have seen him become the butt of Internet jokes – a Youtube compilation of his 2011/2012 highlights features a blank screen – but the midfielder shrugs off the jibes.
“Criticism makes you stronger,” the winger told reporters in Krakow on Thursday.
“You are always going to get criticised at a big club like Liverpool but it is a great club to play for.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my first season and I am sure we will be better next year.”
Downing, who cost Liverpool £20 million last summer, often found himself in the firing line after a campaign that saw the club finish eighth.
The failure of Downing and other big-money signings ultimately cost manager Kenny Dalglish his job, with the Kop icon sacked last month before being replaced by Swansea's Brendan Rodgers.
However Downing believes Liverpool's eighth place finish did not reflect their form in general over the season.
“A lot has been said about Liverpool and the fact we didn't perform but we battered teams at Anfield at times,” he said.
“I can think of one or two bad performances. Most of the time we were very unlucky.
“We just didn't have that killer instinct. The manager said there wasn't much you could say and that was probably right.
“But a lot of new players signed, we played in two cup finals and came away with a medal so there were a lot of positives to come out of it as well.”
Downing, who could start for England in their Group D opener against France in Donetsk next Monday, is adamant that the Three Lions should have nothing to fear from Les Bleus despite their 21-match unbeaten streak.
“We don't fear them,” he said. “France are a good team but so are we.
“We know their strengths and weaknesses. They are good going forward and have some great individual players.
“It will be a tough game but it is a great opening match for us to play and we are confident we can get a result against them.” – Sapa-AFP