When news broke that Bukayo Saka would be starting England’s final Euro 2020 group game, reaction on social media was mixed.
For some, his selection represented the culmination of a superb club season for Arsenal. A campaign in which Saka, aged just 19, had come up trumps for his side in so many crucial moments while senior, higher earning players, failed to produce.
For others, his elevation to the starting 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 were handed a massive boost. With a lightning quick swish of his feet the Arsenal man slipped past his Czech marker and surged forward. It was more penetration than we were treated to in the entirety of the Scotland game and Saka made sure to make the most of it.
After playing a neat one-two with Kalvin Phillips, he lofted a cross into the area which was picked up by Jack Grealish. The Aston Villa man then swung in a ball of his own, which Raheem Sterling nodded home to make it 1-0.
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Although Sterling got the plaudits, Saka’s clever run created the space for him to convert the chance. This set the tone for a scintillating first half. Soon after his involvement in the goal Saka was chopped down on the edge of the box, with referee Artur Soares Dias inexplicably ignoring his cries for a free kick.
One-on-one he also had the beating of Jan Boril all half. No, all game.
It was not the first time Boril had been given nightmares by Saka. Last season the wideman caused him such distress during Arsenal’s Europa League quarter-final second leg meeting with Slavia Prague, he had to be hooked off at half time.
This is exactly the type of fear you want your forwards to strike into the opposition, and Saka’s enterprising dribbling continued throughout the rest of the first half. He was also England’s most lively performer in a second period that should have come with a viewer discretion warning. That’s how boring it was.
What the rest of the tournament holds for Saka is a bit of a mystery. As much as he impressed on Tuesday night, fellow golden boy Phil Foden has not exactly been a slouch at Euro 2020 so far. There is also Marcus Rashford to consider, while Mason Mount’s return from self-isolation further complicates things.
Although Saka may not have quite played his way into the first team with his display he has almost certainly positioned himself as the number one option off the bench. Against Czech Republic he was fearless but controlled. He made good decisions while still being unpredictable enough to cause the opposition real problems all evening.
No wonder he was selected as ‘UEFA Star of the Match’.
His performance was further evidence of something we have all known for a very long time. Saka is a ludicrously talented footballer who is going to be key to England’s future on the international scene.