REVEALED: England players were left SHOCKED after 19-year-old Bukayo Saka was handed the task of taking the crucial fifth penalty in the shootout defeat by Gareth Southgate before Italy triumphed
England’s players were shocked by Gareth Southgate’s decision to give Bukayo Saka the responsibility of taking the decisive fifth penalty in their European Championship final shootout loss by Italy.
Saka, 19, was only considered a borderline candidate to make Southgate’s squad on the eve the tournament, yet was chosen to take a penalty ahead of more experienced players such as Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish because of his outstanding conversion rate in training sessions.
Team-mates threw their collective arms around Saka on Monday, with numerous public messages of support posted on social media after they consoled him at a team dinner in London later that night.
England’s Kalvin Phillips and Luke Shaw console Bukayo Saka (centre) after his costly penalty miss against Italy in the Euro 2020 final
Sakas’s spot-kick, England’s fifth, was saved leading to England’s Euro 2020 final defeat
England boss Gareth Southgate consoles a distraught Saka after the match
Arsenal owner Josh Kroenke, manager Mikel Arteta and academy boss Per Mertesacker sent messages of support to Saka, who graduated to the first-team and played a vital role this season, having been at the club’s Hale End academy from the age of seven.
But some England players were shocked that a teenager had been put in a position to determine the outcome of their biggest match in 55 years.
The Arsenal midfielder was only winning his ninth cap and had never previously taken a penalty at senior level, his only experience of spot kicks coming in youth-team matches.
Southgate’s controversial selection of Saka was based on the players’ performances from the spot in training last season, the results of which were monitored and logged.
Training has concluded with penalty practice at every session since September, when players met for international duty in UEFA Nations League matches against Iceland and Denmark.
Southgate insists he is to blame for any penalty failures after picking his side’s takers based on training ground evidence
Southgate’s thinking behind his training analysis made him bring on Jadon Sancho (17) and Marcus Rashford in the last few seconds of the game before the shootout
Assistant coach Steve Holland kept a record of all their efforts, creating a league table of penalty-takers.
Saka was called up to the squad for the first time for a friendly against Wales last October and has consistently outperformed more experienced penalty-takers in training, as have Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, who also failed against Italy’s 6ft 5in goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Rashford and Sancho came on in the final minute of extra-time specifically for the shootout, but Rashford hit a post and Sancho’s effort was saved.
All of England’s penalty training sessions are recorded so the players can review video footage, with Holland’s data showing which area of the goal players aimed for, as well as the outcome.
Southgate also encouraged the players to take their time walking to the spot during penalty practice, in order to closely replicate the matchday experience.
But both missed before Saka in the 3-2 shootout defeat, with Sancho (centre) consoled by team-mate Jude Bellingham (right) and coach Steve Holland
Jack Grealish (left) was criticised for not taking a penalty by pundits, but insisted he volunteered his services before the shootout
On Sunday, goalkeeper Jordan Pickford came from the side of goal to offer words of advice to all the penalty-takers as they approached, but some may have lingered too long over their shot, particularly Rashford.
Had Saka scored and the shootout continued to sudden death, he was due to be followed by Grealish, Pickford and Kalvin Phillips in that order, with Sterling not due to take one until England’s ninth penalty at the earliest.
Pickford had initially been nominated as England’s sixth penalty-taker, but the plan was changed in the pre-shootout huddle with Grealish putting his hand up to move from eighth to sixth.
‘I said I wanted to take one!!!!’ Grealish tweeted in response to criticism from some quarters.
‘The gaffer has made so many right decisions through this tournament and he did tonight! But I won’t have people say that I didn’t want to take a peno when I said I will…’