John Stones is proud of the way England defensive partner Harry Maguire has drowned out the noise over his poor form to shine at the World Cup.
Maguire has endured a tough start to the Premier League season and the Manchester United skipper found himself out of the side at Old Trafford in the weeks leading up to the finals.
Even his place in Gareth Southgate’s 26-man squad was questioned in some quarters but the England boss insists Maguire remains one of his best players.
Stones has always had Maguire’s back – the pair having first played against one another at the age of nine – and previously spoke about how they exchange texts with their friendship crossing the Manchester divide.
Maguire has been in fine form in England’s opening three games and Stones hailed the performances of the 29 year-old.
“I think right from the first game the best response is what he’s been doing,” the Manchester City centre-back said.
“All three games that he’s played in have been terrific and it’s about us finding that partnership again, whoever we play with, and I think we have done in these three games.
“Now it’s time to keep building, keeping improving and that’s great credit to him. I spoke at length on Harry before and there were lots of questions I got asked.
“Playing with someone for so many games at England, been through so many moments with him, knowing what he’s been going through at his club as well and the person that he is, I think it speaks volumes about him to come through that and still believe in himself like I believe in him, like all the team believes in him, his team-mates at United believe in him.
“I think there’s been a lot of noise from the outside which he has not listened to and tried to improve himself, better himself.
“He’s come into this tournament and hit the ground running, and that is great credit to him.”
Stones and his England team-mates are preparing to face Senegal in the last 16 of the World Cup on Sunday night.
“I am extremely proud right now with how we dealt with the group coming off those games (in the build-up) – conceding, losing form as a team, form as a unit, as a defence,” he said.
“How we’ve come through these three games in a difficult group that we knew what we were facing. We kept two clean sheets and I am extremely proud of everyone that’s been involved.
“We’ve done really well since we’ve been here, working hard on the fundamentals and the basics and working hard as a back four and a defensive unit.
“We’re still looking to improve every game, but I didn’t listen to the outside noise and concentrated on what I could do.”
England were criticised after their goalless draw with the United States but advanced as Group B winners following convincing wins over Iran and Wales.
With the likes of Belgium – ranked second in the world – and Germany crashing out at the group stage, Stones does not want to see the current England crop come up short as they carry the hopes of a nation.
“I think it’s always difficult when you see big teams or big players in teams that don’t have the success that you want or don’t live up to the expectation of a nation or where they see themselves,” he added.
“We don’t ever want to fall into that category. I think that is great motivation for us as a reminder – you never want to take anything for granted or who you are playing against.”
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