England's White Knight

Wednesday 27 March 2002

From Ian McCulloch

There was a sublime moment in Tuesday's England U21 international against Italy on Tuesday evening, when Fulham's Zat Knight, up in the Italian six-yard box for a corner, attempted a spectacular scissor kick that went narrowly over the bar.

The young defender had an outstanding game at the heart of the England defence, growing in stature against a very accomplished Italian side and looking very dangerous when he went forward at set pieces. Obviously eager for a goal, he had several half chances and made Gareth Barry's equaliser, winning a very difficult header that allowed the Villa man to slide the ball into the net.

If you're not playing regularly for your club, and when you do feature you're played out of position, it must be doubly special to still receive the call-up for your country. Knight admitted he was hopeful but apprehensive about getting the nod.

"I wasn't sure what would happen," he said, speaking at Motspur Park the morning after the game, "I was thinking, would I get the call or would he leave me out because I haven't been playing for Fulham? But in the end I was just delighted to get another chance.

"I was a bit nervous at the start, but after the first five minutes I got into it, and I thought it went quite well. We were under a lot of pressure in the first half, but after the break we dug in and got something out of it.

"I was very pleased with the way I played and hopefully I can bring that back to Fulham and try now to get back into the first team."

Knight's recent outings for Fulham have seen him playing the holding role in front of the back four. He admitted that centre-half is where he would rather be playing and was grateful to get the chance to do so with England.

"The first time I got called up, David Platt asked me which my favourite position was, and I told him centre-half - I said that I was just helping out at Fulham because of injuries. So it was very nice to play for England in my preferred position and I enjoyed it very much.

"Hopefully it will have done me some good here as well - I haven't even been on the bench for a while, so perhaps it can put me back into contention."

It certainly looked as though the young defender had goals on his mind, getting forward at every opportunity and using his height to good effect.

"The Gaffer gave me the licence to get forward at corners and free-kicks," said Knight, "He just told me to get in there and make a nuisance of myself, and I tried to do that. If the overhead kick had gone in that would have been a bit special for my first goal.

"I was very pleased to have been involved in the goal though, it's nice to have an assist to my name."

Particularly in the first half, the Italians looked to be a very good outfit indeed, although on first reading, with names like Maccarone and Ferrari, the team sheet looked like something out of Monty Python. While conceding that they were a good side, Knight said that England had plenty of cause for optimism.

"They were very good tactically, and worked well on the counter-attack. They've got some outstanding individual players.

"But I thought a draw was a fair result in the end, they worked hard in the first half and we did better in the second. That was probably their best team out there, and we were short of some of our first choice players, so I think we can be quite confident going into the tournament in Switzerland."

So what about the U21 Championships in the summer? The prospect of a Fulham pairing of Sean Davis and Knight at the heart of the England team is mouth-watering indeed. What does Knight think of their chances?

"Hopefully I did myself a lot of good on Tuesday," he said, "We've got one more friendly, against Portugal, coming up, and if I can get a call-up for that and play a part in it, then you never know. It's in the Gaffer's hands then, and all I can do is hope.

"Sean and I were talking about the two of us playing this morning, it would be great to go away together and do something good for our club and country. He was called up for Tuesday's match, but Sunday had been his first game for quite a while and the feeling was that two games in three days was a bit much. So I think there was an agreement between Fulham and England that he wouldn't go.

"It would be great if we could both get picked, it would make us very proud."

It would make the Fulham fans very proud as well. Congratulations must go to Knight who had a fine game on Tuesday, and if he carries on the way he is, with the same determination and attitude, there really is nothing to stop him going all the way.