Milan's Tomori hopes Champions League aids England World Cup dream

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Wed, 15 Sep 2021 - 08:19 GMT

ROME, Sept 14 (Reuters) - For every footballer who realises their childhood dream by representing England at a major tournament, there are dozens left disappointed.

AC Milan defender Fikayo Tomori was one of the unfortunate players left waiting by the phone to no avail when Gareth Southgate named his England Euro 2020 squad in June.

"There was certainly disappointment on my side," Tomori told Reuters.

"But it had a kind of spurring on factor, I guess you could say a carrot. I want to go to a major tournament with England, I want to have the opportunity to be there."

The 23-year-old forced his way into call-up contention during an impressive half-season loan in Italy from Chelsea last season, but had to watch from home as his adopted country triumphed over the Three Lions in July's final.

A brief substitute appearance against Kosovo in November 2019 remains his only senior cap to date. That is unlikely to be the case for long.

Milan were quick to make Tomori's loan move permanent in June after he played a big part in ending their eight-year absence from the Champions League with a second-place Serie A finish.

The Rossoneri's return to the competition begins with a trip to Liverpool on Wednesday, kicking off a competitive Group B that includes Spanish champions Atletico Madrid and Portuguese side Porto - and hands Tomori a platform where can catch Southgate's eye.

"Playing in the Champions League with Milan is a great opportunity to showcase myself, to show what I can do," he said.

"I am motivated to go to the World Cup in 2022, which would be a dream.

"There is still a long way to go, a lot of football to play, so I have to make sure I am right in Milan and we will see from there."

ITALIAN RENAISSANCE

Southgate’s reluctance to call on Tomori can perhaps be explained by his lack of football at Chelsea.

The defender made one Premier League appearance for the Blues in the first half of last season – a defeat by Liverpool.

But his career was transformed by the decision to follow the likes of Juventus' Aaron Ramsey and AS Roma's Chris Smalling by swapping England for Italy.

"In 2020 I wasn't playing a lot. I wasn't really happy; things were not going well for me," Tomori said.

"Then 2021 comes and suddenly I am in Milan, a new country, playing for AC Milan, fighting for the league and getting into the Champions League.

"Then the new season starts, I have seen San Siro for the first time with fans. It has been a whirlwind, but I am loving it."

Milan travel to Merseyside in good form. Tomori has played every minute of their three Serie A victories so far this season, but the youngster is only too familiar with the threat posed by the Liverpool forward line.

"Everyone knows how formidable it is. They won the league and the Champions League with this front three and they have added to it," he said.

"It is going to be a test for us. Individually we have to be strong, we have to be fighters. Collectively we have to do the same thing. They pose threats to every defence in Europe.

"We know it is going to be a difficult night, but these are the games we want to be playing in, these are the situations that will make us better as a team and as individuals."

THINKING BIG

Only Real Madrid have won more Champions League titles than Milan's seven, and Liverpool are right behind them on six.

Although he was a young child at the time, Tomori can still recall watching the English and Italian giants twice clashing in unforgettable finals.

In 2005, the Reds completed an extraordinary comeback from 3-0 down at halftime to win on penalties after a 3-3 draw in Istanbul, and in 2007 the Italians got their revenge with a 2-1 victory in Athens.

"I remember both games, Istanbul especially because it was such a historic game. It is hard to ignore the history between the two clubs in this competition," Tomori said.

Despite Milan's long absence from the competition, Tomori does not think a team of their European pedigree should limit their aspirations this season.

"For us, getting through to the last 16 would be great. But for a club like Milan, I don't think we can put a limit on what we can do," he added.

"If we play to the best of our ability, who knows. We have a very competitive group, it is a chance for us to show how good we are."

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