Saka ready to thrive at World Cup after racist attacks

Sports

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