Bukayo Saka’s world came crashing down when he missed the last penalty in the shootout of the European Championship final last year, but the England forward said on Monday he had matured since that miss to become a more confident player.
Saka took England’s fifth spot kick against Italy after Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho had failed to score, with his miss giving Italy the trophy at Wembley - a miss that resulted in a torrent of social media abuse that was often racist.
But the 21-year-old has since put the incident behind him and even stepped up to take spot kicks for his club Arsenal, which sits at the top of the Premier League table this season.
“I’ve obviously matured and progressed a lot as a player and a person since that moment, and I wouldn’t have stepped up the times I’ve stepped up for Arsenal to take a penalty if I wasn’t confident,” Saka said.
“So obviously if the moment comes and I’m set to take it, I’ll be more than happy to,” he said, adding that his teammates’ support had helped him overcome the miss.
“The whole team has got around me. So I think that’s another example of how close our team is, how together it is.”
Saka, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden - the three youngest players in the England squad - have been described as “generational talents”, but the Arsenal player said they had learned to tune out the noise, be it compliments or criticism.
“We don’t really talk about what people say on the outside, there’s much good stuff, the compliments, but there’s also some bad things as well, so we’re trying not to read everything,” Saka said.
“I know that definitely all three of us have more confidence in ourselves, we know we have quality to go into the game and decide the game.”
Saka said he has looked for inspiration in the Bible, which he reads every night, adding he does not feel nervous as he trusts “God’s plan”.
He has also relied on his biggest support system: his family has travelled to Qatar and watched him score three times in the group stage to sit behind France’s Kylian Mbappe (five goals) in the goal scoring charts.
“They follow me everywhere and they have done since I started my footballing journey. To go from that to scoring a goal at the World Cup, those are the moments that will stay with me forever,” Saka said.
“It’s really nice to see them in the crowd and see their smile, get up and clap for me. I always try to look out for them.”