Saka ready to thrive at World Cup after racist attacks

Nov 17, 2022, 4:17 PM | Updated: Nov 18, 2022, 6:23 am
Britain's Prince William, left, presents the England shirt to midfielder Bukayo Saka during his vis...

Britain's Prince William, left, presents the England shirt to midfielder Bukayo Saka during his visit to the England soccer team at St George's Park ahead of the team's trip to the World Cup in Qatar, in Burton upon Trent, England, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. Prince William joined a private team meeting and presented the players with their shirt numbers on Monday evening. (Eddie Keogh/The FA via AP)

(Eddie Keogh/The FA via AP)

              Phil Foden, left, and Bukayo Saka of England' s national soccer team arrive with teammates at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, ahead of the upcoming World Cup. England will play their first match in the World Cup against Iran on Nov. 21. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
            
              Britain's Prince William, left, presents the England shirt to midfielder Bukayo Saka during his visit to the England soccer team at St George's Park ahead of the team's trip to the World Cup in Qatar, in Burton upon Trent, England, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. Prince William joined a private team meeting and presented the players with their shirt numbers on Monday evening. (Eddie Keogh/The FA via AP)
            
              Arsenal's Bukayo Saka smiles after scoring the opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge Stadium in London, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Bukayo Saka has put the racist abuse he experienced at last year’s European Championship behind him, England teammate Aaron Ramsdale said Friday.

The Arsenal forward was targeted on social media after missing a penalty in the shootout loss to Italy in the Euro 2020 final. Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho were also subjected to attacks.

Saka was only 19 at the time and visibly shaken by the experience in front of England fans at Wembley Stadium. But he has recovered to play a pivotal role in Arsenal’s resurgence, which has seen the London club build up a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League.

Ramsdale, who also plays for Arsenal, has seen up close how he has recovered from the experience and grown as a player.

He believes Saka will be one of the standout performers at the World Cup.

“There is no doubt about that, off the pitch and on it, he’s a more complete person,” the goalkeeper said. “I’m trying to find the right words (to describe how he’s handled it). Impeccably, probably.

“The kid’s a lovely boy, he has time for everyone, works super hard throughout every week. Very, very rarely misses a training session and used all that as motivation. The criticism, but also, more so, the love that everyone gave him, gave him an extra boost.”

Saka was one of the breakthrough talents for England at the tournament and is now a fixture in the squad.

Ramsdale said his teammate has also benefited from taking on so much responsibility at Arsenal.

“Don’t forget he had the pressure of the whole football club on him last year — him and Emile Smith Rowe were our main guys — and he has dealt with that, he’s dealt with everything else,” Ramsdale said at England’s training base. “He is thriving and I can’t wait to see him thrive over here.”

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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Saka ready to thrive at World Cup after racist attacks