When the news came that Bukayo Saka would start England’s last Euro 2020 group stage, the reaction on social media was mixed.
For some, his selection represented the culmination of a fantastic club season for Arsenal. A campaign where Saka, only 19 years old, had come to his side in so many crucial moments while senior, higher-serving players failed to produce.
For others, his rise to start XI over Borussia Dortmund sensation Jadon Sancho was an injustice of gigantic proportions and a national disgrace.
12 minutes into the game, the pro-Saka side of the argument got a huge boost. With a lightning-fast foot, the Arsenal man slipped past his Czech marker and stepped forward. It was more penetration than we were treated to throughout the Scotland game and Saka made sure to get the most out of it.
After playing a nice one-two with Kalvin Phillips, he lifted a cross into the area that was picked up by Jack Grealish. The Aston Villa man then swung in his own ball, which Raheem Sterling nodded home to make it 1-0.
Bukayo Saka handed maiden Euro 2020 start against Czech Republic
Bukayo Saka has got his first start in Euro 2020 for England’s last group game against the Czech Republic.
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June 21, 2021
Assistant King ???????? … and #ENG leads! ?
⚡️ Sharp driving from @ BukayoSaka87? @JackGrealish puts it on a plate? @ Sterling7 does the rest # CZEENG | #ITVFotboll | # Euro2020 pic.twitter.com/rqIApvGwAE
– ITV Football (@itvfootball) June 22, 2021
Despite Sterling receiving the tributes, Saka’s smart driving created room for him to transform the chance. This set the tone for a brilliant first half. Shortly after his involvement in the goal, Saka was chopped down on the edge of the box, where referee Artur Soares Dias inexplicably ignored his call for a free kick.
One-on-one, he was also beaten by Jan Boril the whole half. No, all games.
It was not the first time Boril had nightmares of Saka. Last season, wideman caused him such distress during Arsenal’s Europa League quarter-final meeting in the second leg with Slavia Prague, he had to relax at half-time.
This is exactly the kind of fear you want your forwards to strike in the opposition, and Saka’s enterprising dribbling continued for the rest of the first half. He was also England’s liveliest artist in a second period who should have issued a warning of discretion. How sad it was.
Saka has given Southgate a headache / Chris Brunskill / Fantasista / Getty Images
What the rest of the tournament has for Saka is a bit of a mystery. As much as he impressed on Tuesday night, the golden guy Phil Foden has not exactly been a slumber at Euro 2020 so far. There’s also Marcus Rashford to keep in mind, while Mason Mount returning from self-isolation further complicates matters.
Although Saka may not have really played into the first team with his display, he has almost certainly positioned himself as the main option from the bench. Against the Czech Republic he was fearless but in control. He made good decisions while still being unpredictable to cause the opposition real problems all evening.
No wonder he was named “UEFA Star of the Match”.
His achievement was further proof of something we have all known for a very long time. Saka is a ridiculously talented football player who will be the key to England’s future on the international stage.