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HomeInternationalSouthgate picks out England star who deserved 'extra big hug'

Southgate picks out England star who deserved ‘extra big hug’

Gareth Southgate was like a proud father when speaking about Bukayo Saka after England reached the semi-finals of Euro 2024 on Saturday night. 

The Arsenal star was crucial to the Three Lions’ win over Switzerland in Düsseldorf, cancelling out Breel Embolo’s goal in the second half before converting from the spot in the penalty shootout.

England converted all five of their attempts from twelve yards out, while Jordan Pickford denied Manuel Akanji to see the team progress to the last four for a second successive Euros.

Southgate now holds the distinction of being the only Englishman to be involved in three semi-finals at a European Championship, having been a player in 1996, where he missed in the shootout defeat to Germany, and manager in 2021 and this summer.

Read – Saka shakes off penalty nightmare to save England at Euro 2024

“I am so proud of the players,” Southgate told BBC Radio 5 Live. “I thought we played well. We had to defend extremely well as a team. We caused them problems with the way we used the ball. We had a big threat with Bukayo down the right for the whole game.

“We were happy with the performance and then you go behind and you have to show other characteristics. The players showed their resilience, desire and character and forced their way back into the game. Extra-time could have gone either way and excellent composure to score all the penalties.”

The contest was a dour one in which England created very little of note, and it needed a moment of magic from Saka to keep their Euros dream alive. The 22-year-old then banished memories of his penalty miss in the Euro 2020 final by clinically finishing past Yann Sommer in the shootout.

“We have total trust in him. His all-round performance was phenomenal for the team. To show the fortitude to convert the penalty as he did, I love them all but I had to give him an extra big hug.

“I know myself these experiences shape you. He has come back stronger, still resilient and loved. Tonight his tournament ignited a little bit.”

As for the other penalty takers, Southgate remarked: “There’s Ivan (Toney), Cole (Palmer), Jude (Bellingham), Trent (Alexander-Arnold) who could have felt his tournament is done but we know he is an exceptional penalty-taker with good nerve. They all showed up under pressure.”

England will now face the Netherlands in the next round for a place in the final.

Read – Penalty hero Alexander-Arnold hails ‘incredible’ England win

See Also – Five players who could join Arsenal this summer

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