‘I wasn’t focusing on the past – only on now’: Saka revels in penalty redemption

Bukayo Saka exorcised his Euro 2020 demons with a penalty strike in a phenomenal shootout for England and immediately insisted his sights were set on making history for the nation by winning Euro 2024.

Saka had already delivered a player-of-the-match performance, having scored a wonderful 80th-minute equaliser, before his redemption moment from the spot. In 2021, as a 19-year-old, he missed the crucial final penalty in the Euro 2020 shootout and was racially abused in the aftermath. This time Saka confidently placed his strike to the right of Switzerland’s goalkeeper, Yann Sommer.

“You can fail once but you have a choice whether you put yourself in that position again or not and I’m a guy that is going to put myself in that position,” said Saka. “It’s something I embrace. I believed in myself and when I saw the ball hit the net, I was a very happy man.

“I wasn’t focusing on the past – that’s done. I can only focus on now. Of course I know there’s lot of nervous people watching, my family included in the crowd, but I kept my cool and scored. We have some of best taker penalty takers in the world and we had talked about that if it did come to penalties, we would be confident. I’m happy we showed that today and scored five out of five.

“Listen, we know we have two more games until we can change our lives and make some history. We’ll enjoy tonight but we’re really focused on that.”

Gareth Southgate, who missed a penalty in the Euro 96 semi-final, celebrated in a huddle with his players and admitted the moment was particularly sweet given the personal criticism he has endured.

“Every now and then there has to be some enjoyment in this job and if you can’t enjoy that moment, the whole thing is a waste of time,” said Southgate. “I can’t deny when [the criticism] is as personal as it has been, on a human level it’s difficult but we’re fighting and we’re not going to stop fighting.”

He insisted that the penalty process the team have embraced since he took over, including consulting a London School of Economics professor, has played its part in ending England’s penalty curse. England have won three shootouts in tournaments under Southgate, beating Colombia in 2018 and Switzerland again in the Nations League in 2019, having previously lost high-profile penalty deciders in 1990, 1996, 2004, 2006 and 2012.

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“We got crucified for the one we lost – that will always be the case as it’s outcome based,” said Southgate. “We’ve refined the process a little bit after that but it’s the players have to show that calmness out there. There were so many stories: Cole [Palmer] taking the first at his age; Bukayo; we almost dismiss Jude [Bellingham] because we now expect it; Ivan [Toney], knowing we brought him for that; and Trent [Alexander-Arnold], sticking with the task. He could easily have thought his tournament was done but I kept talking to him, saying he is going to have his moment.”

The Guardian