Jon Walters does not feel under pressure. He knows he will be playing in front of 46,000 people tomorrow, knows he will be facing one of the greatest sides in the world – and possibly in history – and knows a defeat will deny the Republic of Ireland a chance to qualify for the UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-finals.
But pressure? He knows what real pressure is. Eight years ago his daughter, Scarlett, was born with her intestines outside her body. For the first two years of her life, Walters, his wife and their daughter were in and out of hospital. His football career, meanwhile, was meandering around in the fourth tier of the English league system, the polar opposite to where it is right now. Yet that did not matter. Scarlett's health did.
It was only as his daughter fully recovered that Walters' career moved forward too. Ipswich Town FC brought him to the English second division; Tony Pulis brought him to Stoke City FC and to prominence. And now, here he is, set for another promotion, a place in the Irish starting XI to face Spain with the eyes of the world upon him.
"I feel blessed to be in the position I am, and as footballers we all should," he said. "There are people losing their jobs all over the world at the moment. I do a lot of work in a children's hospice back home and when I see those kids, I know I am blessed. When I went down the leagues [playing for Wrexham AFC and Chester City FC], I made a lot of friends who are now going out of the game. An injury in one of those seasons could have finished my career permanently, so yes, I know I'm lucky to be here, but I'll take it all in my stride – I don't get overawed by anything really. I'm just ready to take in any situation that appears."
The situation appearing in front of Walters and Ireland now is difficult. With Italy and Spain drawing last Sunday, and Croatia collecting three points from the Poznan encounter, Ireland have to collect four points from their concluding two group games to qualify for the quarter-finals. The problem is, those two games are against Spain and Italy.
Walters said: "The result was obviously a kick in the teeth, but the majority of our players have had setbacks in our careers all the way through, and that's important, because it's not so much how you react after getting a result and winning; you see players' characters after a defeat. You see how much they want it, and hopefully we will want it more than Spain come the game.
"I'm fully confident we can go there and give it a right go," he added. "
OK, they have got the world's best players, but you're going out there against 11 men, it's not 11 superheroes. You look at games going on in the season. People said Barcelona were unbeatable in Europe, and Chelsea went and beat them in a semi-final of the Champions League and are now European champions.
"People always say Barcelona are the better team because they play through the pitch and they play attractive football, but in certain games you're not always going to play attractive football. You go out there to get the result, and in a couple of years' time it's not how well you play; you look back at results and that's all that matters."
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