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Redemption? England sensation Saka just cemented his status as a Three Lions superstar

4:00 PM SGT 22/11/22
Bukayo Saka England 2022
The Arsenal winger may have missed the deciding penalty in the Euro 2020 final, but his two goals against Iran put any doubts over him firmly to bed

It was a moment 17 months in the making. Time seemed to stand still when Bukayo Saka let fly 43 minutes into England’s World Cup opener against Iran on Monday.

Then, as the ball clipped the underside of the bar and rippled down the net, the release of emotion was instant. As Saka wheeled away in celebration, the smile on his face told its own story.

This was the Arsenal winger’s first-ever appearance at a World Cup and his first tournament appearance since the fateful night at Wembley when his penalty was saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma and England were downed by Italy in the Euro 2020 final.

What Saka had to endure in the days and weeks that followed that heartbreaking loss was disgraceful. The abuse that was sent his way via the cowards on social media could have broken him, but instead it just made him stronger.

Since then, he’s become Arsenal’s main man and continues to be an integral part of Gareth Southgate’s England team.

But despite all that, he would have gone into Monday’s game against Iran with memories of that night against Italy still fresh in his head.

And that’s what made his big moment in the first half so special. The look on his face as he ran off celebrating said it all.

"I can't describe the feeling,” he said afterwards. “I am so happy and so proud. It is amazing.”

This wasn’t about redemption for Saka, because he’s never let anyone down. It was just a moment when a player was able to visibly banish some personal demons, and no-one deserved that moment more than the Arsenal man.

You could see the weight lift off his shoulders, and the fact he went on to score a wonderful second goal after the interval spoke volumes. Saka is a player for England to cherish and celebrate.

There is plenty wrong with football right now, and a lot of those issues are evident during this World Cup. But there is also a lot of good being done, and Saka is at the heart of it.

Look at the work he has been doing with charity organisation BigShoe, which last month saw 120 Nigerian children given life changing operations in Kano. That’s just one of the many initiatives that Saka is involved with as he attempts to use his success and platform for good.

He’s a special talent and a special person, and that’s why he is such a popular character wherever he goes.

"The kid's a lovely boy," said Aaron Ramsdale, Saka's Arsenal and England team-mate.

"He has time for everyone, works super hard throughout every week, very, very rarely misses a training session and used all that motivation of criticism but also more so the love that everyone gave him, gave him an extra boost.”

England went into their game against Iran with noise and controversy dominating the build-up. And with their form so far in 2022 being scratchy at best, there were a lot of questions being asked about how Southgate’s team would perform.

But when you have players like Saka - and the prodigious Jude Bellingham - in your ranks, you will always have a chance to silence the critics.

Saka has been doing that for Arsenal ever since Donnarumma pushed away his penalty at Wembley in July last year and at the Khalifa International Stadium on Monday he went one step further.

"I feel in a good place,” he said, while attempting to sum up his emotions after the 6-2 success. “I feel the support and love from the fans, the coaching staff and my team-mates. That is all I need. 

“I feel ready to give 100% and I will continue to do that every time I put the shirt on."

What happened against Italy in Euro 2020 will never be forgotten. It’s a moment that will go down in England history, like all of the penalty failures that have gone before them.

But now it’s about looking forward for Saka, and the most exciting thing is that what we witnessed on Monday was just the start. 

There is much, much more to come from Arsenal and England’s star boy.