Hart relishing Champions League

Hart is in line to face Switzerland at Wembley on Saturday, but he

will not be backed up by Ben Foster. The Birmingham number one has

decided to take a sabbatical to concentrate on his club career,

having decided trying to oust 24-year-old Hart is not worth the

effort. Paul Robinson has also retired and Robert Green was left

out of Fabio Capello’s current squad amid doubts over his

commitment to the national team, only to be called back when it was

established that Fulham’s David Stockdale was due to get married.

Hart wanted to make it plain he was offering no opinion on the

reasons for, or the wisdom of, Foster’s decision. However, he could

not see himself abandoning England. “I can’t envisage wanting to

take a break,” he said. “Who knows what is in the future? Other

people make decisions based on personal reasons. I can only

concentrate on myself and being available for these kind of trips.

“Right now I am really happy to be here and trying to get that

number one spot.” Mind you, if Hart cannot be happy at present, no

one can. He has pushed Shay Given out of the first-team picture at

Manchester City, to the extent the Irishman needs a move to try to

salvage his career. Hart was one of the Blues’ outstanding

performers in a campaign in which they secured automatic Champions

League qualification and won the FA Cup. Never short of self-belief

to start with, it has provided the former Shrewsbury man with

another confidence boost, in addition to offering an opportunity to

perform at an even higher level. “What has happened at Manchester

City has given me a lot of confidence,” he said. “We have achieved

some fantastic things this season. We know what a tough task it

will be to follow that. “But the thing is, we could have achieved

more, which just makes it more exciting for next season.” Having,

for long periods, assumed they were heading for a place in the

Champions League qualifiers at best, it came as a very pleasant

surprise to squeeze Arsenal out of third spot to secure a direct

route into the last 32. City’s seeding means Barcelona, Real Madrid

and Inter Milan are among those who lie in wait. And Hart is

relishing the test. “I can’t wait to find out how much the

Champions League will improve me,” he said. “Getting it nailed on

as well, rather than going into the qualifiers, is great. “We can

really prepare for it properly now. “It will be a big test for us.

It really is big boys’ football.” Before Hart can enjoy his summer,

there is one more test to come. It does feel like Switzerland is

the add-on game that has totally slipped under the radar. However,

failure to win at Wembley would put England’s hopes of reaching

Euro 2012 next summer in jeopardy. A capacity 90,000 crowd will be

screaming Capello’s men on, demanding it does not happen. Hart is

unfazed at the prospect. “England are expected to win every game,”

he smiled. “If we were playing a team with 500 people in it, we

would still be expected to win at Wembley. Nothing changes there.”

The hosts are overwhelming favourites to come out in top. When they

defeated Switzerland in Basle last September, Ottmar Hitzfeld’s

World Cup qualifiers had not just been struck by the retirements of

two major stars in Alexander Frei and Marco Streller. Six points

adrift of England and joint leaders Montenegro, the Swiss have

little chance of securing a passage to next year’s finals in Poland

and Ukraine. Nevertheless, Hart is wary. “I don’t know if beating

them earlier in the season gives us a psychological edge,” he said.

“We know full well when teams come to Wembley it is a huge day for

them, no matter what. “It is a great occasion in a great stadium

and they are playing against a good team. “They will be doing

everything they can. We have to be ready for them.”