Saka redemption sees England through to Euro 2024 semis

Jordan Pickford with Trent Alexander-Arnold for England in Euro 2024
Jordan Pickford with Trent Alexander-Arnold for England in Euro 2024 (PC: England/X)

Bukayo Saka was the most abused footballer in England three years ago. He had fluffed the decisive penalty in the shootout against Italy in the European championship final. He was just under 20 years of age at the time, and too young to be written off.

The Arsenal star with roots in Nigeria resurrected the English campaign in Euro 2024 with a stellar show in the quarter-final against a resolute Switzerland side, which blinked only at the end of an exciting contest. England won the Duel of Dusseldorf 5-3 on penalties after regulation and extra-time ended 1-1. It may not have been the best of matches in terms of quality, but riveting nonetheless.

After taking a deserving lead in the 75th minute through Breel Embolo, the Swiss had become the favourites to clinch this battle of equals. A thorn in the Switzerland flesh down the right channel throughout, Saka used his left foot with telling effect in the 80th minute. It was pin-point placement with a shot taken from a distance which stunned the Swiss defence and handed England a lifeline they so desperately wanted.

Saka stepped up for the crucial third shot in the tie-breaker and used that left foot with acute precision again to help England build on the lead they had already taken. Call it redemption if you want, it was the pinnacle of a stunning show by the youngster. He was undoubtedly the cornerstone of an English campaign which was looking like falling apart against a side that matched them steel for steel. Switzerland, at times, were the better team on the pitch.

For the Latest Sports News: Click Here

Southgate celebrating the victory with the fans
Southgate celebrating the victory with the fans (PC: England/X)

This was not a match for the faint-hearted. The pendulum kept swinging. Switzerland began with a blitz of attacks on the English defence. England withstood it and came back. Saka was certainly the main man behind that enterprise. He was a livewire down the right and it took some organised defending to negate the effect he was having on the match.

Not to be overpowered, Switzerland matched their more illustrious opponents by everything. They pounded the rival defence and took the lead after exerting relentless pressure. Then, they made the cardinal sin. It is never advisable to defend from too deep in a knockout match of a top-tier event. They allowed England to come up to a dangerous distance, from where anything could have happened, with a lot of time remaining on the clock for a goal to be conceded.

Saka sniffed the chance after having tried to feed the other players hitherto in the match. He decided to go solo and essayed a shot with the inside of his left foot that was low and had an inward curve. The goalkeeper stood no chance. The rest of the match was exciting and Xherdan Shaquiri almost sealed it in the dying stages of extra-time with a corner-kick which hit the post.

But then, England showed the gumption befitting of a ‘big team’. The Swiss goalkeeper was made to guess wrong on four of the five shots in the tie-breaker. The England shooters were spot-on and that was that. They will believe in themselves going ahead in Euro 2024. Coming back from a goal down and securing victories in two successive knockout games is a massive source of confidence.

Also Read: Return of back-three as Southgate tweaks