Defoe, 28, scorer of England’s decisive goal in a 1-0 victory over Slovenia in their final Group C fixture on Wednesday, said most of the squad would have preferred a last-16 knockout clash with Ghana but they were all now “buzzing” with anticipation ahead of Sunday’s trip to Bloemfontein.
“Forget the history, forget all the stuff from years ago,” Defoe told reporters at England’s base camp, the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus, north of Rustenburg. “We just have to focus on ourselves and do the job.”
As a frenzied English media corps began dusting off stories recalling the dramas at previous World Cups in 1966, 1970 and 1990, the latter a semi-final settled by penalties in Germany’s favour, Defoe called for a single-minded focus.
“I think it’s important to approach it as just another game. The lads are buzzing, as you would expect. The performance yesterday (Wednesday) was fantastic, from front to back.
“Everyone worked hard and I thought the shape of the team was good which is something that the manager wanted so everyone is buzzing at the minute which is important. The spirit is great. We are all looking forward to it.
“It would have been nice to have had Ghana, to be honest, but to win a major tournament you have to play, and beat, the best teams, and it is important not to think about history, or previous games over the years.
“We just have to be confident and approach it like any other game.”
Defoe also rejected German World Cup-winning player and coach Franz Beckenbauer’s continued criticisms of England, suggesting they erred in failing to win Group C and looked burnt out by the demands of the Premier League.
“Everyone has an opinion and you don’t always get nice things said about you all the time,” he said. “It’s part and parcel of playing at the top level. We just have to concentrate on ourselves and not get sidetracked.
“We are not burnt out. Yes, we do play in one of the toughest leagues, with a lot of games and in Europe and in cup competitions. But if you look after your body, and prepare right, it’s not a problem.”
Many of the messages, he added, were emotionally stirring for him and his family who suffered a dreadful tragedy in April last year when his half-brother Jade, 26, was murdered in London.
“Yeah, I wanted to make my family happy,” he explained. “My mum was crying before the game (against Slovenia) so afterwards you can imagine — it was just fantastic.
“Before, she told me she had all the family round and I just said ‘cor, put some more pressure on me! I have to play well now’.
Asked if England had been practising penalties given their poor record in shootouts in major tournaments, he said: “Yes, every day since Austria (their pre-tournament preparation camp) and they are all going in. But I hope it does not go that far.”
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