Bukayo Saka 'embraced' penalty pressure as England beat Switzerland


Bukayo Saka said he “embraced” the opportunity to banish his penalty shootout demons after England’s players held their nerve to reach the European Championship semi-final.

Saka scored England’s 80th-minute equaliser to force extra time against Switzerland before they won on penalties to secure a semi-final against Turkey or the Netherlands.

All five England players scored their penalties in the shootout — including Saka, whose only previous penalty for his country was saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma to secure Italy’s victory in the Euro 2020 final.

“Last time we had a penalty shootout at the Euros, we know what happened,” the Arsenal forward told reporters afterwards. “I believe. I felt we dominated the whole game and the chance would come and I took it. I’m proud of myself for that.”

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

England 1 Switzerland 1 (AET: 5-3 on penalties): Saka stars, ice-cool spot kicks, system success?

When asked about the pressure on him following his previous shootout experience with England, Saka said, “It’s something I embrace. You can fail once and you have a choice over whether you put yourself in that position again.

“I’m a guy who’s going to put myself in that position. I believed in myself.

“I’m not going to be focusing on the past. That’s done. I can only focus on now and taking the penalty. Of course I know there’s a lot of nervous people watching, including my family in the crowd. But I kept my cool and scored.”

Jordan Pickford saved a penalty from Switzerland defender Manuel Akanji, while Cole Palmer, Jude Bellingham, Saka and Ivan Toney converted their kicks before Trent Alexander-Arnold secured victory.

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Saka scored his spot kick (Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

England manager Gareth Southgate paid special tribute to Saka, not just for converting his penalty but for a performance that saw him win UEFA’s player of the match award in an unfamiliar wing-back role.

“I gave him a massive cuddle on the pitch,” Southgate said when asked about Saka.

“He’s a special boy, dream to work with, with a wonderful family, and of course you’re pleased for everybody but for him especially when his penalty goes in.

“That takes courage, but we had belief in him. We had belief in him previously. His all-round performance was exceptional.”
Saka outlined the England team’s desire to “change our lives and make some history” by winning the European Championship for the first time.

“We know there’s two more games until we can change our lives and make some history that’s never been made before,” he said after winning UEFA’s player of the match award.

“We’re really focused on that and we’ll be ready for the semi-final when it happens.”

(Top photo: Richard Pelham/Getty Images)



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