Bukayo Saka admitted the overwhelmingly positive reception he received from England’s supporters during the 4-0 World Cup qualifying win over Andorra “means everything” to him.
The Arsenal winger celebrated his 20th birthday in style, scoring England’s fourth goal after laying on an assist for two-goal Jesse Lingard earlier in the game.
It marked a successful return to Wembley for Saka, who two months ago missed the crucial penalty in England’s shootout defeat to Italy in the final of Euro 2020. The Three Lions were expected to overcome Andorra with ease, which they did, but it was a special occasion for Saka as he received a rapturous ovation from those in attendance.
Saka revealed after the final whistle how inspiring the support inside the stadium was; a stark contrast to the abhorrent racial abuse he received from some in the immediate aftermath of England’s defeat to the Azzurri.
“It was the perfect birthday present for me,” Saka told ITV. “I am really happy with the reception everyone gave me. It really shows how proud they are of me and I think that meant a lot for me and it made me want to give my all.
“It really made a difference. Even now, I can hear so many fans chanting my name. It means everything. It makes me believe that everyone supports me through different things.
“This is what I dreamed about. Playing at Wembley in front of a full crowd and my family, scoring on my 20th birthday. I am really happy.”
England manager Gareth Southgate added in his own post-match interview that he hoped Saka now had closure on the matter, before speaking of the challenges his side had faced after he made a full 11 changes from the side who beat Hungary on Thursday.
“He got a fabulous reception, before the game, during the game,” Southgate said. “You can see how popular he is with the rest of the team as well. I hope it is closure but I don’t think there’s a player in that dressing room who doesn’t think positively about what he did all summer.”
“It is difficult for the team that we picked. They have not had as many matches together as a group and they are playing against a team that really know how to frustrate.
“All the goals in their matches come late so you have to keep moving the ball, keep being patient. It was not an easy task we gave them, especially for our younger players.”