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Stop doubting Southgate over team selection – Bukayo Saka

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Winger Bukayo Saka believes fans should stop questioning Gareth Southgate as England look forward to a World Cup quarter-final against champions France, in which he insists he would be ready to step up to take a penalty.

Saka scored his third goal of the finals in the 3-0 win over Senegal which sealed a place in the last eight.

But England boss Southgate still comes in for stick, notably for his team selection – despite their progress in Qatar – with many questioning the logic of leaving the in-form Marcus Rashford on the bench against Senegal.

His decisions again paid off, with Rashford’s replacement Saka scoring in Al Khor. The Arsenal winger defended his manager’s record, with England making at least the quarter-finals of three major tournaments in a row.

‘We all back the manager, of course, because he has an unbelievable record,’ said Saka. ‘He’s taken us really far, makes big decisions and he’s got them all right.

‘So we need to try and trust him a bit more, believe in him a bit more, stop doubting him and we should be in a good place.’ Last year the 21-year-old missed the decisive penalty in the Euro 2020 final shoot-out loss to Italy, after which he suffered online racist abuse.

But Saka, who has scored three out of three for Arsenal since, said: ‘I have matured and progressed a lot as a player and as a person since that moment.

‘I would not have stepped up the times I have for Arsenal to take a penalty if I wasn’t confident, so if the moment comes and I am selected to take a penalty, I am more than happy to.’

Saka was typically humble when asked whether he could ‘be the Kylian Mbappe of this World Cup’ after the Frenchman’s emergence on the world stage in Russia four years ago.

‘Thank you for the compliment but… nah! There’s only one Kylian Mbappe and there’s only one me. I just want to be myself and help my team in the best way I can,’ he replied.

‘There’s a lot of young players in this tournament. Even in our team there’s another young player who’s doing unbelievably well and that’s Jude Bellingham.

‘The priority is to win the tournament rather than be the player of the tournament or the best young player.’

Bukayo: Les Bleus legends have got my back

Bukayo Saka has revealed Arsenal’s French connection have been some of his greatest supporters, even if he has never met Arsene Wenger.

The Gunners star suffered racist abuse in the wake of his penalty miss in the Euro 2020 final but received help from club legend Thierry Henry.

Saka said: ‘Thierry and Robert Pires spoke to me and helped me and they still both support me to this day so I’m grateful for them.

‘Thierry was (in contact after the final). It meant everything. He got my number and reached out to me. He’s still so passionate about the club.’

The 21-year-old joined Arsenal’s first-team squad after Wenger, now Fifa’s head of global development, left the club in 2018 and wishes he had met the Frenchman.

‘One of my biggest regrets, or things I haven’t been able to do, is meeting Arsene Wenger,’ he added. ‘I know how much my dad loves him, how much everyone at the club loves him.’


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