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Bukayo Saka moves past England heartbreak to become heartbeat of Euro 2024 team

As Bukayo Saka stepped up for the penalty against Switzerland, a lot of the England staff were conscious of the weight on his shoulders. Some tried not to mention it, but it did hang there. He’d taken many for Arsenal in response to that Euro 2020 miss, but it was nothing like this...READ THE FULL ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE▶▶

I know there’s a lot of nervous people watching, like my family…” Saka himself said afterwards. That’s enough of a thought to flash through your mind in itself.

He wasn’t thinking of any of it in the moment, though. It was also why Gareth Southgate and the England staff were fully confident in him. They’d gone through so many preparation processes as a group. There was also Saka’s individual character – and quality. They didn’t need to mention it, because they knew he was ready.

It is something I embrace,” Saka said. “You fail once, but I’m the sort of guy who wants to put myself in that position again.” He learned from experience, and excelled. “I kept my cool and scored my penalty.”

Saka of course did more than that. He’d scored the goal that got England that far, saving the team with inspired individual brilliance. In moments like this, it is inevitable that wider narratives are constructed around the decisive player, but Saka’s performance is reflective of something deeper with England. It may yet take them all the way.

He’s a personification of their resolve. That is over the three years since Euro 2020, and also the resilience in just getting through games like this, and getting through the tournament.

Saka equalised for England with a brilliant strike into the bottom corner

There is still so much to fault in this team, after all. None of the formations have yet worked, including the imbalanced one at the start of this game. England still retreat so needlessly in matches, and it still looks like a proper team of stature could punish them. Even in the quarter-final, Switzerland created so many openings in the final 10 minutes of extra time. That flurry alone felt like more than England have produced in almost this entire tournament. That can be witnessed in those stats about three successive shots on target, resulting in three goals over four hours of football.

There is so much for opposition sides to scrutinise. What you can’t fault, however, is this new resilience. That’s why it’s so important to have a player like Saka, who displays it when required.

The goal was a genuine moment of tournament genius. England needed something to stay in the competition as the match ticked into the final 10 minutes, and he didn’t just do what was necessary. He did something special. It was all the best of Saka, from the smart running, the link-up, the run and then the arrowed finish. We have seen that a lot for Arsenal, but usually from much further in. This was the long shot required. Saka duly went even bigger for the big moment.

And all this, of course, from playing what was notionally an unfamiliar position at wing-back.

England coach Gareth Southgate shows his affection for Saka

“He’s a dream to work with,” Southgate beamed. “He’s a fabulous boy. Such a good professional, so much fun to be around. He does an amazing job for the team with and without the ball.”

England do need to be much better with both. It’s obvious this team doesn’t have the integration yet. There isn’t the same understanding between the various parts. That is offset by this very different psychological attribute, though: They keep a hold in games and claw their way back, before grasping the opportunity.

That will bring wider criticism about the nature of the performance, given the talent. An opportunity has obviously been offered in the ease of this side of the draw, too. England still have to actually go and do it, though.

England players thanking Saka for his vital equaliser

Saka showed how. It adds the sense that something might be different about this tournament. The more this goes on, the more a team develops that canniness of getting through games – one way or another. It isn’t even really “tournament ball”, in the way Didier Deschamps’s tactics have been described, and what Southgate used to excel in.

England don’t currently have the structure for that. It is instead more innate. It has also been hardened. It is that will to just get through.

As has already been said in this tournament, that may not be sustainable through a league campaign, but this isn’t a league campaign. This is now just two games, the belief getting stronger as the prize gets closer.

It was an important one for us today,” said Trent Alexander-Arnold, scorer of the decisive penalty. “It showed the belief that we have. We believed until the very last kick of the game. We’ve showed that in the last two games. We have the mindset to go and defeat any opponent in front of us. It was another good win for the team spirit.”

That has a power of its own. You still need the individual quality to produce. Saka did more than that.

About the author

Bunady

JOLOWO BUNALAYEFA PIUS is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for BUNADY NEWSLITE GLOBAL ENTERPRISE (Bunady.com). He started his Blogging/Journalism career at God's Own Wireless Company 2012. He's a graduate of Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba Akoko Ondo State, with a major in History And International Studies. You can contact him for press events, advertisement promotions on Email: contact.bunady@gmail.com

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