Bukayo Saka gets penalty-shootout redemption at Euro 2024, three years after being racially abused

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Bukayo Saka dropped to his knees near the center spot and looked to the sky.

The rest of England’s players had sprinted toward the goal to celebrate with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Pickford, the team’s two headline-grabbers from the penalty shootout win over Switzerland in the European Championship quarterfinal on Saturday.

Saka was alone, happy to savor a measure of redemption.

His was the decisive penalty in the Euro final in 2021 that was saved to seal the title for Italy at Wembley Stadium.

Saka and fellow Black players Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, who also failed with their spot kicks in that shootout, then received horrific racial abuse on social media as a result.

Saka was 19 at the time, the youngest player in a multi-ethnic England squad that won the hearts of the soccer-mad nation — before the loss to Italy, anyway.

Three years later and there was Saka again, making that long and lonely walk from the center circle to the penalty spot to take England’s third kick of the shootout against Switzerland.

This time, he found the bottom corner of the net, and cupped his ears in celebration, as England went on to win 5-3 in the shootout after a 1-1 draw that had seen Saka score the equalizer in the 80th minute.

“For me, it’s something I embrace,” Saka said of the pressure he was feeling taking a penalty again for England. “You can fail once but you have a choice if you put yourself in that position or not again.

“I’m a guy who is going to put myself in that position. I believed in myself. And when I saw the ball hit the back of the net, I was a very happy man.”

Saka said it had been “really difficult” to bounce back from that fateful night in July 2021 but “used it to make me stronger.”

He said he wasn’t thinking of his miss against Italy when he took his penalty against the Switzerland.

“I’m not going to be focusing on the past,” he said. “That’s done. I can only focus on now and taking the penalty. I know there are lot of nervous people watching, my family included in the crowd, but I kept my cool and I scored.”

Saka has now set up a goal for Jude Bellingham in the group stage and scored himself at Euro 2024 — and it was a crucial one against Switzerland, which took the lead in the 75th through Breel Embolo at Duesseldorf Arena.

Saka equalized when he cut inside from the right and curled a low shot into the corner from the edge of the area.

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


AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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