Soccer-Euro 2020 penalty abuse forgotten, Saka is toast of England

By Andrew Cawthorne

(Reuters) – Subjected to racist insults after missing the decisive penalty of England’s shootout defeat in the Euro 2020 final, Bukayo Saka buried that nightmare on Saturday with a superb individual goal and spot-kick success against Switzerland.

“To come back from something like that was really difficult. I used that to make me stronger. Today I took the chance and I’m happy,” said England’s man-of-the-match.

Only 19 during that infamous shootout loss to Italy at Wembley, Saka’s confidence could have been shattered by the invective he and other Black players received online.

But he recovered quickly – helped by coach Gareth Southgate’s support, a massive groundswell of public affection, and a backlash against the abusers – and continued to show fine form for Arsenal in the Premier League and for England.

Now Saka is a popular figure and, at age 22, almost a veteran of the national team, with 38 appearances and 12 goals.

Saturday’s game may have been the most special of them all.

Saka first hit a glorious curling equaliser when England were 1-0 down in their quarter-final against the Swiss and on their way out of the tournament. Then, when the game finished at 1-1 after extra time, he was one of England’s five successful penalty-takers in the 5-3 shootout victory.


The total focus on his face as he stepped up for England’s third penalty gave way to a massive smile as the ball nestled into the corner.

“Last time we took a penalty shootout at the Euros, you all know what happened. I’m so proud of everyone how we got over the line,” he said. “I felt that we dominated the whole game, that the chance (for a goal) will come. And it did come and I was the one that took it, so I’m proud of myself for that.”

Coach Southgate, whose consolation of Saka at the last Euros was one of the abiding images of the tournament and remains a painful sight for England fans, said he could not be prouder of his young charge.

“He is so brave. He’s one of our best. So we were never in any question that he was going to take one (a penalty). But we all know what he went through. And to deliver as he did.”

England’s footballing history is littered with painful shootout failures, but Saka said he felt calm in the moment.

“You fail once but I’m the sort of guy who wants to put myself in the position again. I know there’s a lot of nervous people watching, like my family, but I kept my cool and scored my penalty,” he said.

(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne, Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ed Osmond)


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