Long laps up feel of being with England

George Long -  ''� BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
George Long - ''� BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
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George Long has spoken of his pride after being selected to represent England at this summer’s FIFA under-20’s World Cup.

The Sheffield United goalkeeper, who five days ago departed for Turkey, joins players from the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Sporting Lisbon in Peter Taylor’s squad.

Speaking ahead of their opening Group E fixture against Iraq, Long told The Star: “It’s always the biggest honour you can have to compete for your country.

“I feel proud to be involved. Very proud in fact and now I just want to try and do well.

“I was sat at home when I got a text through from one of the England staff saying I was going on the trip. The first thing I did was tell my parents.

“I’ll always remember that feeling. It was like waiting for your exam results. Hoping that you’d got a good result.”

While Taylor’s charges were boarding their flight to Antalya at Birmingham Airport, their Under-21 counterparts were preparing to return home in disgrace having lost all of their three matches in the European Champions.

Having spent the first part of the week training with his international colleagues at St George’s Park, Long is confident of avoiding a similar fate.

“We want to do well and hopefully give the nation a lift,” he said. “The games are on television so if we do well that is going to filter home.

“When I first reported here, I didn’t really know anybody. But when you mix with everyone around the dinner table and begin training the different set-up quickly becomes the norm.

“I’m really enjoying myself here and we all get along great. When you go into a tournament it’s important to have a good team ethic and group spirit. We’ve definitely got that here.”

United, who have forged an enviable reputation for producing talented young footballers, will plot their latest protege’s progress through the competition with a mixture of pride and trepidation.

Long, aged 19,was an ever-present last season after Mark Howard sustained a serious muscle injury against Leyton Orient in October.

But with Danny Coyne, drafted-in to provide cover for the teenager, yet to hear whether new manager David Weir requires his services next term and the former St Mirren goalkeeper’s torn calf only just healed, it is imperitive that Long reports back to Shirecliffe in rude health.

The teenager revealed the debt of graditude he owes to both Coyne and United’s goalkeeping coach Darren Ward after being named in Taylor’s provisional 35-man party.

But being exposed to fresh ideas and methods should guarantee he starts the forthcoming campaign an even more accomplished professional.

“It can only help me going forward,” Long said. “I’m sure about that.

“It’s always good to have a look at different ways of doing things. Go about things in a new way because that helps to improve your breadth of knowledge.

“Just by being involved in a different set-up and doing things in a different way is, hopefully, going to be invaluable and I’m making sure I listen and take everything on board.

“Tim Dittmer, our goalkeeper coach here, has been putting on some really good sessions and all three of us are enjoying them.”

Long, the only League One player to make the cut following last month’s boot camp in Cheshire, is also the most experienced goalkeeper on England’s roster having accumulated more senior appearances than Manchester United’s Sam Johnstone and Middlesbrough’s Connor Ripley combined.

The knowledge he has collected en route to Turkey could prove invaluable given the fact Egypt and Chile, boasting Chelsea’s Cristián Cuevas, stand between them and a place in the knockout stages.

Holders Brazil failed to negotiate safe passage out of a tough South American qualification tournament meaning Spain, Mexico and Portugal are among the favourites to wrestle the title from Alexandre Gallo’s side.

“The standard is going to be high,” Long said. “You know that going into a competition like this one.

“We’re going to do quite a lot of analysis on the other teams and working out how best we can exploit the strengths we’ve got so that we give ourselves the best chance of winning.

“I’ve never been to Turkey but I know it’s going to be really hot so that’s something else to factor in. But I just can’t wait for it all to get underway.”