Gareth Southgate was delighted birthday boy Bukayo Saka was able to feel the love and put his penalty miss behind him with a goal in England’s first match back at Wembley since their Euro 2020 final defeat.
While the wounds from the shoot-out loss to Italy will take a long time to heal, the supporters showed their appreciation for an unforgettable summer during Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Andorra.
The winger, who was celebrating his 20th birthday, responded with a fine performance against Andorra, providing two assists before heading home at the same end he missed his spot-kick to complete a 4-0 win.
“I had a longer catch up with him a couple of days ago, I suppose mindful of coming back to Wembley today,” Southgate said having included Saka among 11 changes from Thursday’s win against Hungary.
“But, really, just to emphasise what he will now recognise from the reception he got from the crowd, that my thoughts of him when I look at the summer are all positive.
“He will I’m sure have gained a lot of confidence and heart from the reception he got before the game.
“And then the reception of his team-mates when he scored I think shows you what they think of him. Yeah, it’s a lovely story for him to get his goal today on his birthday as well.”
Asked if the performance can provide closure for Saka, the Three Lions boss said: “It’s hard for me to say what it will mean for Bukayo but from my perspective he doesn’t need closure.
“We think he’s a super player. He’s 20 years old, the way he’s progressed and the maturity he’s played with and the talent that he has, he is a hugely exciting player.
“He has already produced some big performances for England, so no need from our side for closure.”
Sunday’s victory saw England maintain their 100 per cent record in World Cup qualification, with Jesse Lingard giving the hosts a half-time lead under the arch.
Substitute Harry Kane scored from the spot – his 40th international goal, putting him level in fifth with Michael Owen in the Three Lions’ all-time list – before Lingard struck from the edge of the box and Saka headed home.
“It’s very difficult for the team that started because they’ve not played together as much as a group and so you could see that some of the cohesion that we often have with a more settled team wasn’t quite there,” said Southgate, whose side complete September’s World Cup triple-header in Poland on Wednesday.
“And of course you’re playing an opponent where there’s so little space and they’re slowing the tempo of the game down all the time.
“I felt we got a little bit frustrated with the situation in the first half.
“But also Andorra tend to let more of their goals in late because, in the end, you can only work for so long.”
Andorra head coach Koldo Alvarez was happy with his players’ doggedness before England stepped up a gear.
“We felt like we played well for the first 70 minutes and defended well,” he said.
“But we are playing against a good team and in the end that was our downfall.”