England defender Harry Maguire believes he has been in some of the best form of his life during Euro 2020 after spearheading the journey to the final.
The centre-half’s participation for the tournament was in doubt after he suffered an ankle ligament injury playing for Manchester United in May.
He missed the opening two group games against Croatia and Scotland but returned to the side against Czech Republic and has not looked back.
The Manchester United captain picked up the star player award against Germany, scored a thumping header against Ukraine and helped his country through their first major semi-final in 55 years against Denmark.
Asked whether this is the best he has ever played on the official England podcast, he said: “It is close to it.
“I am in a good place, obviously coming back off a seven-week injury to hit the heights and form that I have done, I am really proud of how I have handled the situation and it shows all the hard work I put in during those seven weeks has paid off.
“I feel like I am learning and improving and I can still get better, but the main thing is the team and winning football matches and keeping clean sheets and that is the focus.
“I think a lot of people spoke about previous players and how it affected them and said ‘He won’t be able to do this’, and ‘He won’t be able to get his rhythm’.
“You hear so much negativity over injuries, I just had to remain focused and clear-minded on what I wanted to do and I have great belief and confidence in my ability to be able to step in. You are not just stepping into a friendly game you are stepping into the biggest stage possible.
“First and foremost the lads in the first couple of games enabled me to play in the third game knowing we had already qualified.
“Credit to Tyrone (Mings) who played in the first couple of games and was immense, which shows the squad depth.
“I am really pleased with the way it’s gone and the injury, it was tough times for me with the rehab but I always had an end goal and that was to make sure I was available for the Euros.”
For all England’s attacking flair, their run to the final has been built on a solid defence as they have conceded just one goal in six games and even that was from a superb free-kick.
That base has allowed the likes of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling to do the business at the other end of the pitch and Maguire is proud of the defence’s work.
“I am so proud of the way the team has performed first and foremost and then as a defender we want to keep clean sheets, we know how important they are at tournaments and in football in general,” he said.
“We always feel like us as defenders that we know we have matchwinners in our team, we know we have people who can score goals.
“If we build from that foundation of making it hard for them to create chances, that is the most important thing.
“You can always look at clean sheets, if Picks (Jordan Pickford) is having to make five or six saves then we haven’t really defended well, but if you keep a clean sheet everyone thinks you have defended well.
“We look at the chances conceded and we are conceding minimal chances each game, which is needed and important.”
It has all culminated in England’s biggest match since the 1966 World Cup final, as they take on Italy at Wembley aiming for a place in the history books.
Maguire was in the stands with his friends watching the last European Championship final in France five years ago and knows what the chance of now playing in one means to him.
“It is an incredible game to be part of,” he said. “When you grow up playing football you dream to be playing in these big games and this is something we have the opportunity to go and play in.
“Go and play, go and play free, enjoy it, enjoy the occasion and take it all in. But the bottom line is, is a final and it is there to be won and that is what we will be trying to do.
“To win the Euros would mean absolutely everything to myself and everyone and St George’s Park.”