Bukayo Saka: Special moment of Euros redemption for England star

The demons of Euro 2020 had been racist, disgusting and vile. Saka, along with Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, was subjected to the most horrendous abuse after missing in the shootout against the Italians.

Saka, just 19 at the time, took the fifth kick for England and saw Gianluigi Donnarumma save his effort. He was left in tears on the pitch.

Three years later, and the circumstances could not be more contrasting.

Saka – no longer a teenage squad player, but key to England’s hopes – had dragged his team back into the game with a brilliant strike from 18 yards, just five minutes after Breel Embolo put Switzerland ahead.

And, at the end, after the penalty shootout, he was smiling and celebrating with his team-mates on the pitch amid joyous scenes.

“In that shootout, the smile on Saka’s face was brilliant,” former England defender Izzy Christiansen told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“You can’t help but be reminded of the [Euro] 2020 final and it was great to see him put it away.”

Southgate, who held the sobbing Saka tight on the sodden Wembley pitch in 2021, went through his own shootout pain as a player. His was the one kick saved in the Euro 1996 semi-final as Germany edged past England.

“It was so brave from Bukayo – he is one of our best and we were never in question he would take one,” Southgate said. “But we all knew what he went through.

“I love them all but I had to give him an extra-big hug. I know myself these experience shape you. He has come back stronger, still resilient and loved. Tonight his tournament ignited a little bit.”

It was not just the cool head in the shootout, of course. Saka was the most vibrant attacking outlet for England throughout the match, the high point being his brilliantly taken goal just as it looked like the Three Lions were down and out.

Swiss defender Michel Aebischer will never want to face Saka again. The England winger successfully dribbled past him four times in the first half, more than one player had beaten another in any Euro 2024 match until that point.

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