Hart relishes his return to action
- 15 June 2009 09:00
- Posted byPeter Ferguson
Joe Hart can hardly wait for England's challenge to get underway in the European Under-21 Championship finals in Sweden after finishing City's season with a watching brief from the substitute's bench.
Goalkeeper Hart sat out the campaign after Shay Given's arrival from Newcastle in January to take over behind back-four team-mates Micah Richards and Nedum Onuoha, also in England's squad, although Onuoha is an injury doubt for tonight's Group B opener against Finland.
Now Joe, who was back-up to Scott Carson two years ago when England reached the semi-finals in Holland, will have a key role in former Blues boss Stuart Pearce's bid to reclaim the title for the first time in 25 years.
Hart said: "It's a big summer. I've had my feet up for a little bit because I've not been playing for City, so I'm looking forward to getting a few games under my belt. It would be great if we can bring home the trophy.
"It has been tough this year. It's frustrating, but there's only one person can play in goal and Shay's doing that at the moment. I've had to deal with it the best I can. It's not been ideal, but it's not the end of the world."
Hart might well be allowed to go on loan next season - manager Mark Hughes is sympathetic to Joe's frustration, and Birmingham are keen for a deal - and heroics over the next fortnight would propel him back into the limelight.
But England also have to face Spain on Thursday then Germany next Monday to progress, so victory over outsiders Finland in Halmstad appears to be vital if Pearce's boys are to reach the semi-finals on June 26.
Hart said: "Sweden is a huge chance for us but it's going to be difficult. We're in a tough group and everyone thinks they have a good chance of winning it. There's an awful lot to do, we just want to be in the hat.
"At Under-21 level you can't rule anybody out. A senior national side might not be brilliant but their Under-21s can be very strong. I've not played against Finland, but Kasper Schmeichel has and he says they're very good."
Richards, aiming to force his way back into Fabio Capello's senior squad, said: "This is a great stage to test yourself against the best up-and-coming players, and I believe we have a squad strong enough to win it."
As the tournament gets under way, spare a thought for Ched Evans. The young City striker's seven goals in qualifying were only matched by Germany's Rouwen Hennings, but Wales lost their play-off ... against England.