It came down to one kick of a ball. Bukayo Saka, needing to score to take the penalty shootout to sudden death, saw his decisive spot-kick saved. The bravery of this young man goes beyond any comprehension. He is, and will forever be, a hero. Arsenal couldn’t be luckier.
Gareth Southgate opted to change his England team for the European Championship final against Italy, playing Kieran Trippier in Saka’s stead despite the clear benefits of fielding the 19-year-old.
Two minutes in and the plan was in action. Luke Shaw netted at the end of a swift counter-attack and the Three Lions were on their way. Yet a strong first half showing without much attacking endeavour was undone in the second half by a scrappy corner goal.
Brought on to change the shape and the tide of the night, England were a stronger looking outfit with Saka on the pitch.
Arsenal: Bukayo Saka is an England hero regardless of whether he missed the crucial penalty in the Euro 2020 final against Italy at Wembley
And when the dreaded penalties came around, it was a 19-year-old, without a single senior penalty taken in his career, was put forward and didn’t back down.
That level of bravery can never be overstated. Southgate admitted that he chose the takers, an unsurprisingly bold admission, but nevertheless, Saka should never have gone last. Never. That was wrong.
A night that will live in the memory forever for all the wrong reasons, England can be grateful to the young man for helping them reach this stage; having the privilege to even be in the conversation; to feel maybe, just maybe, history could be written.
Tragically, there are deplorable individuals in the world who believe their prejudice comes first. The shame we feel for the racists who look to tarnish this wonderful achievement are drowned out by the pride that we feel for every single one of the magnificent individuals who helped bring England to within a few kicks of European superiority.
But they can not be forgotten; not pushed to one side. This must not go on. It’s unforgivable.
Saka will be embraced with love. Comforted by adoration and supported by all those who know he will not only be a key figure for Arsenal and England for years to come, but is a special young man who any mother would be lucky to call their son.
9 months carrying Arsenal on his shoulders in the Premier League and beyond to aiding England en route to their first final in 55 years.
Let him rest. Let him recuperate. Give him the best holiday money can buy. Whatever happens between now and the next time he kicks a football won’t come close to being what he deserves for what he’s achieved as a professional or as a person.
We all can’t wait to tell him how much we love and cherish him at the Emirates Stadium next season. A truly unique individual.
Thank you for everything, Bukayo.