Smiling Saka dazzles for England again

LONDON - Bukayo Saka is one of the first names on England manager Gareth Southgate's teamsheet and his weekly performances for Arsenal are driving them towards the Premier League title so it's no wonder the 21-year-old cannot stop smiling.

The winger created England's opener for Harry Kane in the comfortable 2-0 victory over Ukraine in Euro 2024 qualifying Group C at Wembley on Sunday, then scored an absolute beauty himself to seal the man-of-the-match award.

His curled effort was his eighth goal for his country and in his last 16 national appearances he's been involved in 10 goals.

Saka has 12 goals and 10 assists in the Premier League too and currently appears to be able to do nothing wrong.

"Football is fun and it's always fun. I just hope the happiness can continue to the end of the season," Saka, who has rebounded magnificently from missing a decisive penalty in the shootout in the Euro 2020 final after which he was subjected to racist abuse, said on Sunday.

London-born Saka, who came through Arsenal's youth ranks, is riding the crest of a wave at the moment and if Arsenal do win the title he will be a serious rival to Manchester City's goal machine Erling Haaland for the Player of the Season award.

England coach Southgate spoke of Saka having developed a "ruthless" streak after the game. He is playing with a growing swagger and maturity, as shown at the World Cup, and is rewarding Southgate for the freedom he is now allowing his creative players to express themselves.

"I think when he is in front of goal he plays with real belief and that's evident with his club and the games with us," Southgate, whose side are already firm favorites to top their qualifying group, told reporters. "You expect him to score now when he goes through, it was a mentality shift, he always had the technique. To be a top wide player you need the goals and assists and he has delivered that all season. His hunger and humility has put him on a good path and he has all the attributes to improve and learn, that's how he's wired."

England sit top of Group C with six points and with a game to come against Malta in June, the path looks inviting for them to quickly book their place in the Germany finals. But Saka says nothing will be taken for granted.

"I think we've been really mature. We can't just look past these games and magically be in the Euros. We have to qualify first," he said.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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