'Proud' Saka earns England penalty redemption

Bukayo Saka, who missed a penalty in his country’s Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy and was subsequently the victim of racist abuse, was England’s hero with a superb individual goal and spot-kick success against Switzerland in the Euro 2024 quarterfinals on Saturday.

Saka, who stood out for England and scored their all-important equaliser on Saturday, said he was proud of how he has overcome that moment.

“To come back from something like that was really difficult. I used it to make me stronger. Today I took the chance and I’m happy,” the Arsenal winger said.

“It was special, special, how we fought back … 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.

“I believed. 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.”

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 might have been the most special of them all.

Saka first hit a glorious curling equaliser when England were 1-0 down in their quarterfinal 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.

“[Saka] is so brave,” Southgate said after England booked their place in the semifinals, where they will face the Netherlands on Wednesday. “He’s one of our best. So we were never in any question that he was going to take one [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,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of nervous people watching, like my family, but I kept my cool and scored my penalty.”

Trent Alexander-Arnold converted the winning penalty for England and declared he was not nervous as he stepped up to take the decisive spot kick.

Manuel Akanji saw Switzerland’s first penalty saved by Jordan Pickford, while England were immaculate in the shootout, with Alexander-Arnold powering home the fifth and final spot kick to send England to a second consecutive European Championship semifinal.

“It’s what we practice, a lot of practice goes into that moment, the moments that I enjoy,” Alexander-Arnold told the BBC after the game.

“My belly doesn’t drop, I enjoy it, I practise it. I knew what spot. I knew I just needed to execute it. And I went out and did that.”

Alexander-Arnold also praised Pickford for his heroics, saying the save coming so early in the shootout gave England’s takers added faith.

“Pickers [goalkeeper Pickford] made an amazing save, to start a shootout like that gives us great confidence,” the Liverpool player said. “Every game so far has gone into extra time in the quarterfinals so you know the tight margins. The finest of margins today, but we were able to win.”

Information from Reuters contributed to this report.

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