Joe Hart has hailed England's progress to the knockout stages of UEFA EURO 2012 as a "great achievement" but warned that the his side are far from finished yet.
The Manchester City FC goalkeeper impressed throughout the group stage as England qualified for the last eight top of their section, beating both Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine following an opening 1-1 draw with France.
"It's what we set out to do at the start of the tournament," said Hart at Thursday's press conference in Krakow. "We'd identified the first game against France as key. To get the draw and then follow it up with the two solid performances is a good start."
Though various quarters of the media had doubted England's ability to make it out of the group, Hart does not feel the pressure has lessened now that the team have exceeded those more sceptical expectations.
"There was a group of people who didn't think we'd do well, but I think anyone who knew the players and knew our mentality won't have been surprised," said the 25-year-old. "We're winners. We came here to win games and be successful for the country and the pride of the English football team."
With England set to face Italy in the last of the quarter-finals on Sunday, Hart is looking forward to facing his City colleague Mario Balotelli for the first time and reckons his and, in particular, Joleon Lescott's inside knowledge of the striker could well prove beneficial. "I've never actually played against the guy, but it'll be a lot of fun and interesting to see what he brings to the team. We know him, but more importantly Joleon knows him."
Of course, the start of the knockout stages heralds the prospect of penalty shoot-outs, a dreaded scenario for England, who have exited no fewer than five major tournaments on spot kicks in the past 22 years. Roy Hodgson has therefore had his charges rehearsing in training and Hart says he has been practising "as much as anyone else – probably more actually".
As well as doing his research on where Italy's players prefer to send their penalties, the towering custodian is also confident of putting his own away if called upon. "If they let me, I'll put my name forward 100%," he said. "Hopefully it won't come to that. It's a lottery, but I'd back myself in a tournament."
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