Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville insists Arsenal ace Bukayo Saka can “hold his head high” despite missing England’s decisive penalty in last night’s Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy at Wembley.
Stepping up as the Three Lions’ fifth designated penalty taker, the 19-year-old was denied by Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, meaning his save secured the Italian’s their first major trophy since 2006.
Saka had the weight of the world on his shoulders as he stepped up, with Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho having both fluffed their lines in England’s two spot-kicks prior.
However, it was not meant to be for the youngster, who broke down in tears after failing to keep the Three Lions’ dream of ending 55 years of hurt alive.
But despite missing from the spot, which will, sadly, no doubt haunt Saka for weeks and months to come, Neville insists the youngster can be proud of what he has achieved, as well as admitting that the whole nation is going to have to “cuddle him” to get him through this initial period of heartbreak.
“Absolutely heartbreaking for the boy, but not only is Gareth Southgate going to have to cuddle him, the whole nation is going to need to cuddle him,” Neville told ITV Sport.
“Gone are the days whereby a penalty taker that misses gets criticised and lambasted. Everybody has loved this boy over the last few weeks and they’ll love him for the next few weeks as well.
“He’s been absolutely brilliant, every single one of them. The manager, the staff, the players have been outstanding through this tournament.
“That young man there (Saka) hold your head high because we’re going to look after him over the next few months.
“Gone are the days, we cannot criticise players for missing a penalty. Yes they’re disappointed, but well done to Italy, they deserve it.
“The lads fell just a bit short, but they’ve done us so proud.”
Speaking to the media after the game, England boss Gareth Southgate insisted that he should shoulder the blame for Saka’s penalty miss.
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“That’s my decision to give him that penalty, that’s totally my responsibility,” Southgate admitted. “It’s not him or Marcus or Jadon, we work together, we work through them in training, that’s the order we came to. That’s my call as a coach.
“We prepared as well as we could for the (penalty shootout), that’s my responsibility, I chose the guys to take the kicks.
“In the end, we weren’t quite able to see the game through in the normal regulation time.”