Gareth Southgate was full of praise for Bukayo Saka after the Arsenal attacker produced an excellent display in England’s 1-0 win over the Czech Republic at Wembley that secured top spot in Group D.
Raheem Sterling scored the only goal of the game again as the Three Lions booked a potential last-16 showdown with Portugal, France or Germany. The Manchester City forward headed home a Jack Grealish cross in an impressive first-half performance from Southgate’s men.
While their level dropped somewhat in a drab second period, England can at least look forward to another game at Wembley in the knockout stages.
Speaking after the game, Southgate singled out Saka was his performance, telling ITV Sport: “I thought we started really well. We were stable with the ball. We worked on some things in training yesterday but credit to the players as they had to adjust. Without the ball we changed what we were doing because of the change in personnel. It is huge credit to the players that they were as stable without the ball as they were.
“We hadn’t finalised everything as we got the shout during training (over the players needing to isolate). We have been super impressed with Bukayo Saka throughout the month. He was excellent up at Middlesbrough and we have liked him with and without the ball. His receiving tonight under pressure was fantastic.
“The Czechs are a really good side. They use the ball well and are really tough to break down. There is more to come from us, definitely. We have not scored from a set play yet which I know people laughed at with us only scoring from them. They are crucial in big matches and we have to get those nailed. We are not fluent but we have moments where we look a good side.
When asked about a potential game against one of Germany, Portugal or France, Southgate added: “Different sorts of tests. All of our next opponents will be different games.
“There is a lot of good things we are doing. We are getting minutes for a lot of the players. Ninety minutes for Harry Maguire was important tonight. Jordan Henderson getting 45 minutes is a step forward. A lot of positives.
“It is great to be having more supporters in that is for sure. Who knows if that will be a good or not. We wanted to win the group and stay at Wembley and we will wait to see who we play.”
Saka reveals Southgate gameplan
Meanwhile, Saka also added his thoughts on the game, telling ITV Sport: “It was a really good performance from us. We played some really good football at times. With us already having qualified, we had more freedom to express ourselves. That showed in some of the football we played.
“The manager told me to go out and express myself. To play how I have played for my club all season. Sometimes that means driving at the opponents and I did that and got us up the pitch. It was a good cross from Jack for the goal and Raheem was in the right place at the right time again. I was up there but not quite tall enough.
“It is important to be here at Wembley for the round of 16. We have won here a lot. With our fans it is an extra man for us. I can only give my best when I am on the pitch.”