England's Jordan Pickford unaffected by Thibaut Courtois criticism

England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has insisted that he is unaffected by criticism from Belgium No. 1 Thibaut Courtois, claiming that his time in non-league football during six loan spells earlier in his career made him immune to off-the-field distractions.

Pickford, who had not made a competitive appearance for England prior to the World Cup, goes into Wednesday's semifinal against Croatia in Moscow as one of the outstanding keepers of the tournament, following a series of impressive performances for Gareth Southgate's team.

But after being beaten by Adnan Januzaj during a 1-0 defeat against Belgium in the group stages, Pickford's technique and stature were questioned by Courtois -- comments since clarified by the Chelsea keeper.

Pickford responded on the pitch with a crucial save in the penalty shootout win against Colombia and three outstanding efforts to deny Sweden in Saturday's 2-0 quarterfinal win in Samara.

The Everton No. 1 -- England's most expensive goalkeeper following his £30 million move from Sunderland 12 months ago -- claims that he takes no notice of his critics.

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"I would not let that affect me," Pickford said. "It is just a game of football. I don't let anything like that [criticism] affect me. I'm just a normal lad. It's only football.

"A lot of people think I am only young, but it is my second season in the Premier League, and I do not feel as if I am far away from guys like that [Courtois].

"I got a lot of games under my belt in the lower leagues, and I don't feel the Premier League or this [England] is that much different. In some way, non-league and League Two was the hard challenge."

Pickford was loaned to non-league Darlington and Alfreton Town as a teenager at Sunderland before further loan spells in the lower leagues at Burton, Carlisle, Bradford and Preston.

He admits that playing in front of sparse crowds in non-league was a character-building experience.

"Places like Wrexham and Southport, when there are not that many people there, were tough," Pickford said. "You are a young lad, and you're having abuse hurled at you.

"That is what teaches you, and that's what you laugh about now. When you get that stick, that's when you become better.

"When there are just 500 fans inside a ground, you can hear everything they say, every little word that is getting said, so that is what turns you from a kid into a man.

"Is the World Cup any different? No, not really. You can say that, but when players are also working as electricians and stuff like that, it's still pressure.

"I was only young then, so I was learning about game management and all that stuff. That was the difficult task. That is what makes the game easier because you understand it more.

"It is all about learning, and that is what I did in those leagues. Then when you come on to the big stage, you have got to perform, and it is football. And I just enjoy it."

With England just two wins from becoming world champions, Pickford is on course to outshine Courtois as the keeper of the tournament.

But the 24-year-old insists that title means nothing to him.

"I just work hard every day to become the best keeper I can," he said. "I don't worry about being the best keeper in the tournament.

"I just focus on being the best I possibly can for myself and for the team. That is all I can do."