Saka exorcises penalty demons: 'I believed in myself'


Bukayo Saka said he had belief in himself as he capped a player-of-the-match performance by scoring in England’s Euro 2024 shoot-out win over Switzerland to banish his penalty demons from three years ago.

Not only did Saka equalise for England with a fine individual strike to cancel out Breel Embolo’s opener – to make it 1-1 and take the match to extra-time – he took the third of the five penalties which were all scored by Gareth Southgate’s side to secure a 5-3 win in the shoot-out and a semi-final showdown with Netherlands.

Saka was one of three players who missed from the penalty spot in the Euro 2020 final loss to Italy at Wembley in July 2021 and, as well as Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, who were the other takers who failed from 12 yards, was racially abused online in the aftermath.

Since then the 22-year-old Arsenal forward has morphed into a key player for club and country, scoring 10 of the 11 penalties he has taken for the Gunners following the harrowing experience.

“I think for me it’s something I embrace,” he said about exorcising his demons.

“You can fail once but you have a choice whether you put yourself in that position again or not. I’m a guy who is going to put myself in that position. I believed in myself.

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Ryan Bertrand reacts to Saka’s stunning equaliser

“When I saw the ball hit the net, I was a very happy man.

“I’m not going to be focusing on the past. That’s done. I can only focus on now and taking a penalty.

Of course I know there’s a lot of nervous people watching, my family included, and in the crowd. But I kept my cool and I scored.”

Saka's stats

Southgate’s praise for Saka…

England boss Gareth Southgate:

“I gave him a massive cuddle on the pitch,” he said. “He’s a special boy, he’s a dream to work with, wonderful family.

“Of course pleased for everybody but for him especially when his went in. That takes courage but we have belief in him. We had belief in him previously.

“He’s now got a lot more experience of those pressure moments and his all-round performance was exceptional.”

‘Two more games to change our lives’

Bukayo Saka celebrates after equalising for England against Switzerland
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Saka celebrates after equalising for England against Switzerland

While Saka is Arsenal’s regular penalty taker, Southgate now has an embarrassment of riches from the spot as Cole Palmer and Ivan Toney are also the defacto first-choice takers for Chelsea and Brentford respectively and both converted in Dusseldorf.

Jude Bellingham and Trent Alexander-Arnold made it a perfect shoot-out for England, with Jordan Pickford’s save from Manchester City defender Manuel Akanji proving the difference.

“For myself, I believe we have some of the best takers in the Premier League and the world,” added Saka.

“We talked about it before that if it did go to penalties, we would be pretty confident. I’m happy we showed that, we scored five out of five. We’re through to the next round.

“We know there are two more games until we can change our lives and make some history. We’re really focused on that.”

‘Starboy Saka lights a spark’

Sky Sports’ Lewis Jones on Saka’s standout performance against Switzerland:

The Starboy.

Starting as the right-wing back to many raised eyebrows. Saka vindicated Gareth Southgate’s decision to play him down that flank as he tore Michel Aebischer apart one-on-one. His three crosses in the first half, on another day, could have led to three goals. Aebischer was dribbled past five times in the first half, the joint most by a player in a match at Euro 2024.

This was the Saka we see week-in-week-out at Arsenal, epitomised by his super-cool goal and immense penalty in the shoot-out.

This was redemption. A performance for the ages.

Kane praises Saka’s mentality

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Captain Harry Kane praised Saka’s mentality after stepping up to take a penalty in England’s win over Switzerland

England captain Harry Kane on Saka’s performance against Switzerland:

“What a performance in the whole game [from Saka].

“Playing in a position he’s played before but not used to playing, he was our real outlet with the ball.

“He caused them problems the whole game and got the goal he fully deserved with a fantastic finish. He got us back in the game when we needed it most. But then without the ball as well, the work he put it, the shift he put in, the blocks and the tackles right up until the 120th minute.

“Then to step up in the shoot-out the way he did. I know the mentality he has and that he would be comfortable in that situation, despite what has happened in the past.

“He prepares really well for moments like that and he executed it perfectly. It was a fantastic night for him and he fully deserves it.”

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Saka’s performance was magnificent. After what he went through at the last Euros, to have the bravery to step up again with everyone on your back, if anyone deserves it, it’s him.

Michael Dawson

‘Saka was the best player on the pitch’

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Kaveh Solhekol summarises Bukayo Saka’s stand-out performance against Switzerland, including his incredible curled strike to equalise and keep England in the tournament.

Sky Sports News chief news reporter Kaveh Solhekol:

“Saka was absolutely brilliant. He was the best player on the pitch, even before the penalty and the redemption story surrounding his spot-kick.

“During normal time and extra-time he was exceptional.

“He was asked to play as a wing-back on the right. It’s not his favourite position but he didn’t put a foot wrong.

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Rob Dorsett delivers his verdict on England’s win over Switzerland and wonders if the victory will give them momentum to reach the Euro 2024 final

“Going forward, he was direct, his first touch was exceptional and the ball seemed to stick to him. He didn’t really have to do much defending because, for most of the game, he was the one threatening his opposite number. But, when he did have to defend, he did a really good job.

“It was an all-action display from him and it was capped by a goal made by Arsenal as he received the ball from Declan Rice before the midfielder made a good decoy run which just opened up the space for Saka.

“Then there was the penalty shoot-out. When Saka was walking up to take his penalty, I think every England fan inside that stadium and everyone watching at home was just thinking about what happened three years ago when he missed in the Euro 2020 final against Italy and the disgraceful racist abuse that he had to put up with on social media. You were just hoping he scored because we didn’t want to be revisiting what happened. We didn’t want to be talking about that again or have any of those issues again.

“Thankfully, he was just so cool and he was so calm.”

Nev on England’s penalty success: ‘There’s clear plan’

Reflecting on England’s penalty shoot-out – the first time the country has ever converted all five of their kicks – Gary Neville praised the mentality of the players but also the preparation and experience they have in that situation.

“I don’t think the fear ever goes for those players stepping up, but there’s no doubt they’re in a better place than we have been as a country in the past,” he said.

“There is a clear plan of who is going to take them, a clear plan for the ‘keeper in which way he’s going to dive – I know that’s not new but everything is well thought out.

“You need people on the pitch who have been in that position before, who take penalties naturally. That’s what we had – five guys who have been comfortable taking a spot-kick.

“I know there is the added pressure of being in a tournament but if you have that repetitive experience you’ve had before it definitely helps.

“There were times when we were playing for England where there were lads stepping up who hadn’t taken a pen for 15 years since they were a kid.”

Saka shows his mettle and quality

Bukayo Saka holds off Michel Aebischer
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Saka holds off Michel Aebischer

Analysis by Sky Sports’ Nick Wright:

England would not be celebrating a place in the last four without Saka. The Arsenal forward, England’s most dangerous player, even playing as a wing-back, scored a stunning equaliser during a player-of-the-match performance in Dusseldorf.

Even more impressive, though, was his willingness to then step up and take one of England’s penalties in the shoot-out, only three years after the miss that proved so costly in the final of Euro 2020. Not only that, he converted it too, demonstrating his quality and mettle to help England get over the line.

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Penalty decision-making, tactical plans and England’s streetwise nature were on the agenda during Gareth Southgate’s press conference following the Switzerland win

Who plays who in the semi-finals?



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