England’s saviour Saka finds Euros penalty redemption

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GERMANY:

Bukayo Saka banished on Saturday the heartache of his penalty miss in the last European Championship final after starring in England’s passage to the last four of Euro 2024.

Arsenal forward Saka was England’s saviour in Duesseldorf, his stunning 80th-minute equaliser keeping England in the tournament just as they looked set to limp out early.

And the 22-year-old confidently struck home the third of five perfect England penalties as Gareth Southgate’s much-criticised team reached the semi-finals of their second straight Euros.

It was a happy occasion for Saka whose saved penalty three years ago led to Italy snatching the Euro 2020 crown at Wembley and racist abuse from some fans on social media directed at him, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho.

“You can fail once but you have a choice of whether or not you gonna put yourself in that position again. I’m a guy that’s gonna put myself in that position, I believed in myself and when I saw the ball hit the net I was a very happy man,” Saka told reporters.

“I’m not going to be focusing on the past, that’s done. I can only focus on now and taking the penalty. Of course I know there were a lot of nervous people watching, my family included in the crowd, but I kept my cool and I scored.”

England fans danced in joy to their post-win anthem “Sweet Caroline” after an unusually unfussy shoot-out victory.

Penalties have so often been the bane of England at major tournament but after Jordan Pickford saved Manuel Akanji’s opening spot-kick for the Swiss, England’s players showed remarkable composure under high pressure.

“We have some of best takers in the Premier League and in the world, so we talked about it before and if it did come to penalties we would be pretty confident,” added Saka.

“You saw that today, we scored five out of five and we’re through to the next round.”

Southgate was effusive in his praise of Saka who was also for large portions of the match England’s most dangerous player in the unfamiliar position of right wing-back.

“I gave him a massive cuddle on the pitch. He’s a special boy, a dream to work with… Of course you’re pleased for everybody but especially for him,” said Southgate.

“That takes courage but we have belief in him. We had belief in him previously, but he’s now got a lot more experience of those pressure moments and his all-round performance was exceptional.”

However questions remain over how England are performing as Saka’s equaliser was the Three Lions’ first shot on target and saved England from an embarrassing exit at the hands of the Swiss.

England were largely solid but again laboured in attack as Harry Kane toiled to little effect up front and Jude Bellingham struggled to perform as he has at Real Madrid.

However England have a date with destiny on Wednesday, when they will face one of the Netherlands or Turkey in Dortmund for a place in the final.

“We know there’s two more games until we can change our lives and make some history that’s never been made before. We’re really focused on that,” Saka added.

“We’re going to enjoy tonight and obviously focus on the next game. We’ll watch the game tonight to see who we’re facing and be ready for that one when it comes.”



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