Remember Bukayo Saka’s fearless running, not his penalty miss in month England welcomed new star



The enduring image is an obvious one: the heartbreak of a young man who had started the tournament as a fringe player and ended it as a key player who brought a smile to the face of millions. B ut Bukayo Saka’s saved penalty must not overshadow the Arsenal’s youngsters arrival to a global audience.

He was direct and fearless in possession, diligent without the ball, and became a more dependable choice than Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish overnight.

“He’s been an absolute star in this tournament,” manager Gareth Southgate said this morning. “There has been incredible maturity in the way he’s played. He’s brought a smile to so many people’s faces, he’s become a hugely popular member of this group and I know he’s got everybody’s support.”

Saka was introduced for the final group match against Czech Republic, a game with lower stakes but still vital in deciding whether England progressed in first or second place, and took full grasp of his opportunity.

Up against Jan Boril, who he had tormented in Arsenal’s win over Slavia Prague in the Europa League, Saka was exceptional. He kickstarted the move that led to Raheem Sterling’s goal and provided a clear spark after two collective performances that lacked cutting edge in attack.

He remained in the team for the round of 16 win against Germany and while he was substituted with the game scoreless the teenager produced a couple of trademark runs to get England a foothold in the game following a tricky opening ten minutes.

He would have started against Ukraine in the quarter-final but for a minor knock picked up in training. The semi-final recall against Denmark was both logical and justified with another spell immediately after falling behind in which he shwed for the ball and sought to make things happen before again playing a key role in the equaliser when playing the ball across goal for Simon Kjaer to bundle into his own net.

Then to the final, where he emerged from the bench with 20 minutes of normal time remaining and tried to turn the game back in England’s favour. Italy’s defensive solidity was a far more daunting challenge and one other notable image was the sight of Giorgio Chiellini cynically dragging him to the ground to stop a counterattack.

There are dozens of different views on the decision to have him take the fifth kick, whether the youngest player on the pitch was the right choice, and the social media reaction to it has been predictably grim.

Southgate immediately said he will get all the support he needs from team-mates and staff but when the dust settles the focus must instead rest on what went before.

Minutes played 269. Goals 0. Assists 0. Rating 7.





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