Bukayo Saka grabbed his opportunity: Gareth Southgate

Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka played a starring role as England edged past Czech Republic 1-0 to reach the knockout stages as group leaders.

Gareth Southgate in a file photo. (Image: Twitter)

With England already assured of a knockout spot, it was expected from Gareth Southgate to make changes to his starting line-up. Among the newcomers were Arsenal wide-man Bukayo Saka, who put in a man-of-the-match performance. The 19-year-old was brilliant on the night, particularly in the first half. He provided something, which England lacked in the previous match – running at the opposition. The teenager was not afraid to take on the opponents as he cut inside, went outside, making life extremely difficult for Czech defenders. In the end, Raheem Sterling’s only goal was enough for England to secure the win.

It was not a surprise to see his coach Southgate praise his wide-man for his impressive outing. “We have been super impressed with Bukayo Saka throughout the month,” Southgate said. “He was excellent up at Middlesbrough and we have liked him with and without the ball. His receiving tonight under pressure was fantastic.

“I can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s earned that opportunity. His performances in training since he joined this camp have been outstanding. We’ve talked about playing him in some of the previous matches and he earned that chance tonight and he’s grabbed it. He was fabulous.”

On his part, Saka was happy with his individual and team’s performance on Tuesday night. “We played some really good football at times. Of course, with us already qualifying before the game we had a lot more freedom and a chance to express ourselves. I think that showed tonight and I am really happy with the performance by myself and by the team,” he was quoted by skysports.com.

“The manager just told me to go and express myself how I have for my club this season. Sometimes that meant dropping in and driving at the opponents and I did that, got us up the pitch, and it was a good cross from Jack with Raheem in the right place at the right time again.”

‘You have to play the best teams at some point’

England started the game brightly, with Sterling hitting the post inside two minutes before heading in Jack Grealish’s cross after 12 minutes. That goal was enough to secure the victory for the Three Lions against the Czech Republic. They will face any one of France, Germany, Portugal, or Hungary in a last-16 tie at Wembley next Tuesday.

After topping the Group D, Sterling was focused on the positives from the match against the Czech Republic. “I think there are positives from the game,” the Manchester City forward said. “We kept the ball better today. It gave us more attacking options. We got in the gaps really well, played some good football and got the goal we needed.

“If you don’t concede goals you win football matches. You just need to score at the other end. People were disappointed in the Scotland game a few days ago but we didn’t concede. The most important thing was to win the group. It is tournament football and it will be difficult but we need to do what we are doing. At some point you have to face the best teams. It is about challenging yourselves.”

Sportslumo Desk

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