'I believed in myself' - Saka on helping England reach EURO 2024 semi-final

7 Jul 2024
Bukayo Saka

Arsenal star says his past failures made him a stronger person after he banished penalty demons on Saturday

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Bukayo Saka showed nerves of steel to banish his penalty demons and help England reach the semi-finals of UEFA EURO 2024. 

Saka twice stepped up when his country most needed him, first scoring an 80th-minute equaliser that took Saturday's match against Switzerland to extra-time, before scoring a spot-kick as England won 5-3 in a penalty shootout. 

The shootout would have evoked bad memories for Saka, who just three years ago missed a penalty as England lost the EURO 2020 final to Italy. 

But Saka showed huge courage to take and score his penalty against Switzerland and set up for England a semi-final meeting with the Netherlands on Wednesday. 

"Last time we had a penalty shootout at the EUROs we know what happened," Saka told BBC Sport.

"It's something I embrace. You can fail once but you have a choice whether you put yourself in that position again and I'm a guy who is going to put myself in that position.

"I believed in myself. To come back from something like that was really difficult, but I used it to make me stronger."

Support from peers

Saka was one of three England players, along with Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, who missed a penalty in the EURO 2020 final against Italy and subsequently suffered abuse.

But the footballing world rallied around him in support, with his club, Arsenal, showing the winger letters from fans to tell him how much he is loved. 

Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford were the other players who missed a penalty in the EURO 2020 final, and Sancho said on Instagram on Saturday how proud he is of Saka.

“I’m so proud of this guy! [Saka]. You did it for me and Marcus brother!" Sancho said. 

'No doubt Saka would score'

Former England and Man Utd defender Rio Ferdinand also praised Saka's resolve, saying after the match that he had no doubts Saka would score in Saturday's shootout.

“Everything about him just comes off about being so positive and you can’t help but love him,” Ferdinand said.

“When that penalty shootout came up there was no doubt he was going to go and step up given what he’s been through."

Premier League stars show up

All five England players who took a penalty in the shootout scored, with Chelsea's Cole Palmer, Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham, Brentford's Ivan Toney and Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold all successful from the spot. 

Palmer, the 2023/24 Premier League second-highest scorer, converted England's first. The 22-year-old scored all nine penalties he took last season in the Premier League.

Toney, an extra-time substitute and penalty expert, scored his despite never looking at the ball during his run-up. 

And Alexander-Arnold, also a substitute, rose to the occasion to smash in the winning penalty. 

"It’s what we practise, a lot of practice goes into that moment," he said. "They are moments I enjoy. When the gaffer tells me I’m taking one, my belly doesn’t drop."

Also a hero in the shootout was Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who saved Switzerland's first penalty. 

Pickford has now saved four of the 14 penalties he has faced in shootouts at major tournaments, twice as many as all other England goalkeepers combined saved between 1990 and 2012. 

PL stars guaranteed to win EURO 2024

A total of 38 players contracted to 2024/25 Premier League clubs remain in the tournament from the 104 that were called up. 

Spain play France on Tuesday. Spain have three PL players - David Raya (Arsenal), Marc Cucurella (Chelsea), Rodri (Man City) - while France also have three - William Saliba (Arsenal), Ibrahima Konate (Liverpool), Alphonse Areola (West Ham).

On Wednesday England and their 24 PL players face the Netherlands, who have eight PL stars in their squad, including the tournament's top scorer, Cody Gakpo.

The final is on Sunday 14 July.

See: All 104 PL players who went to EURO 2024

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