I believed in myself – Bukayo Saka exorcises penalty demons as England progress

Bukayo Saka said he had belief in himself as he capped a man-of-the-match performance by scoring in the Euro 2024 shoot-out win over Switzerland to book a semi-final slot and banish his penalty demons of three years ago.

Not only did he equalise for England with a fine individual strike to cancel out Breel Embolo’s opener – to make it 1-1 and take the match to extra-time – he took the third of the five penalties all scored by Gareth Southgate’s side to secure a 5-3 win in the shoot-out.

Saka was one of three players who missed his penalty in the Euro 2020 final loss to Italy at Wembley and, as well as Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, who were the other takers who failed from 12 yards, was racially abused online in the aftermath.

Since then the Arsenal forward has morphed into a key player for club and country, scoring 10 of the 11 penalties he has taken for the Gunners following the harrowing experience.

“I think for me it’s something I embrace,” he said about exorcising his demons.

“You can fail once but you have a choice whether you put yourself in that position again or not. I’m a guy who is going to put myself in that position. I believed in myself.

“When I saw the ball hit the net, I was a very happy man.

“I’m not going to be focusing on the past. That’s done. I can only focus on now and taking a penalty.

“Of course I know there’s a lot of nervous people watching, my family included and in the crowd. But I kept my cool and I scored.”

While Saka is Arsenal’s regular penalty taker, Southgate now has an embarrassment of riches from the spot as Cole Palmer and Ivan Toney are also the defacto first-choice takers for Chelsea and Brentford, respectively and both converted in Dusseldorf.

Jude Bellingham and Trent Alexander-Arnold made it a perfect shoot-out for England, with Jordan Pickford’s save from Manchester City defender Manuel Akanji proving the difference.

“For myself, I believe we have some of the best takers in the Premier League and the world,” added Saka.

“We talked about it before that if it did go to penalties, we would be pretty confident. I’m happy we showed that today, we scored five out of five. We’re through to the next round.

“We know there are two more games until we can change our lives and make some history that’s never been made before.

“We’re really focused on that, we’re going to enjoy tonight and obviously focus on the next game. We’re going to watch the game, see who we’ll be facing and be ready for that when the time comes.”

Akanji praised England’s prowess from the spot but felt Switzerland could have come out on top before the need for penalties.

“I tried to score but I didn’t,” he said.

“So I was hoping that somebody was going to miss or (Switzerland goalkeeper) Yann (Sommer) was going to save one but it didn’t happen today. They shot really good penalties.

Switzerland’s Manuel Akanji reacts after missing his penalty
Manuel Akanji saw his penalty against England saved (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

“At the start of the tournament, I didn’t have this belief (Switzerland could win the Euros), but the way we played, the way we competed against all these teams, we haven’t lost one game, even after extra-time.

“I still think we competed really well throughout the whole tournament, we fought against every team. I also think we had better chances than England, that they had control of the game, but they didn’t create a lot out of it.

“So I think maybe we could have scored another one, or we couldn’t concede the goal so quickly after we went up 1-0 – it didn’t go our way and now it is finished.”