Bukayo Saka missed the crucial penalty for England in the Euro 2020 final
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Gareth Southgate’s decision to hand Bukayo Saka the decisive fifth penalty for the European Championship final shootout against Italy surprised some of his England team-mates.
It is understood that Saka volunteered for a spot-kick, despite the fact he had suffered mixed results over the past week during penalty practice in training for England.
England players were impressed by Saka’s bravery given he is aged just 19 and have rallied round him since his miss, but there was some surprise that Southgate included him among the first five takers.
Southgate himself confirmed that it was him, rather than the players, who decided who would take England’s penalties and in which order.
England’s planning for penalty shootouts has been meticulous for over three years, with Southgate’s assistant Steve Holland keeping a running league table from training.
Southgate and Holland also log players’ penalty records for their clubs, but Saka’s spot-kick against Italy in the final was the first he has taken in his senior career.
He had previously scored twice from the spot in the FA Youth Cup and for England Under-18s and missed for the U18s against Czech Republic.
Saka was the surprise choice to take the fifth penalty ahead of more senior England players such as Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish, the latter of whom insisted on Monday that he had volunteered to step up.
England players console Bukayo Saka after his penalty was saved
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Southgate has been hugely impressed by not only Saka’s talent during the Euros, but also the teenager’s character and obviously believed he could cope with the pressure.
Other than Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho missed penalties, and all three players have since been the victims of racist abuse on social media.
Southgate said: “They should be – and I think they are – incredibly proud of what they’ve done. For some of them to be abused is unforgiveable really. I know a lot has come from abroad. People who track those things have been able to explain that. But not all of it.
“And it’s just not what we stand for. We have been a beacon of light in bringing people together and people being able to relate to the national team and the national team stands for everybody. So, that togetherness has to continue.
“It’s my decision who takes penalties. It’s not a case of players not volunteering or more experienced players backing out. They didn’t have a chance. It was my decision to give the penalties to the guys that took them. (I’ve) still got huge belief in them.
“Bukayo has been an absolute star in this tournament; incredible maturity the way he has played. He’s brought smiles to people’s faces and is such a popular member of the group. I know he has everyone’s support.”