Saka shines as England dismiss Ukraine in Euro qualifier
LONDON - Bukayo Saka starred as the England forward’s breathtaking goal inspired a 2-0 win against Ukraine that maintained his side’s perfect start to their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign on Sunday.
Gareth Southgate’s team followed an impressive victory against Italy in their Group C opener with another composed display highlighted by Saka’s brilliance and the latest display of Harry Kane’s predatory instincts.
Saka has been one of the standout performers in Arsenal’s climb to the top of the Premier League this season and the forward was at his very best once again at Wembley.
It was Saka’s pin-point cross that allowed Kane to give England the lead in the first half as the Three Lions captain extended his record tally for his country.
Kane wrote himself into the record books against Italy, scoring his 54th international goal to surpass Wayne Rooney as England’s all-time leading goalscorer.
Surrounded by his wife and children, the Tottenham striker was presented with a golden boot before kick-off, but quickly got back down to business with goal number 55.
Kane had been more instrumental than most in England’s progress to major tournaments in his career, scoring 34 times in just 29 qualifying group matches.
Aged 29, Kane is at his peak, while the 21-year-old Saka is only just starting to explore the vast depths of his potential.
Together, the stars from north London’s rival clubs are the fulcrum of England’s bid to finally win a first major trophy since 1966.
England’s 2-1 victory over European champions Italy on Thursday – their first success on Italian soil since 1961 – was a significant statement of intent.
Dismissing Ukraine in business-like fashion ensured the positive mood will continue while England wait to resume their qualifying campaign against Malta and North Macedonia in June.
It was an emotional occasion for more than 1,000 Ukrainians and their host families, who were invited to the game as special guests of England’s Football Association having been displaced by the war with Russia.
Showing solidarity with Ukraine, England’s players joined their opponents before kick-off behind a Ukrainian flag with “Peace” written across it.
That was as far as England could allow their sympathy for Ukraine’s plight to go as they brushed aside Ruslan Rotan’s team.
Beaten in the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and the European Championship final two years ago, England are still chasing their trophy holy grail.
In their first home game since last year’s World Cup campaign ended in a painful quarter-final defeat against France, Southgate’s men showed their hunger has not been dulled by so many agonising near-misses.
Kane should have given England an early lead when he misjudged the flight of Jordan Henderson’s cross and failed to even get a touch on his attempted volley inside the six-yard box.
England had been patient against Ukraine’s massed defence and, while their build-up might have looked ponderous at times, it was a steady approach that paid off in the 37th minute.
Saka whipped a perfectly-weighted cross towards the far post and when Oleksandr Karavaev couldn’t get enough power on his attempted clearance, Kane stuck out a boot to deflect it in from close range.
Having provided the assist for Kane, Saka got on the scoresheet himself three minutes later.
Taking possession 20 yards from goal, the Arsenal forward easily evaded Mykola Matviyenko and curled a sublime strike over Anatoliy Trubin into the far corner for a jaw-dropping goal that brought the previously subdued Wembley crowd to their feet.
The only damp squib for England was Leicester forward James Maddison’s largely anonymous display in his first international start.
Maddison is likely to be back on the fringes when Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden are available, a selection issue that only serves to underline the quality at Southgate’s disposal.
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