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Bukayo Saka still hurting from England’s World Cup exit: ‘We could have won it’

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 3/22/2023 Dan Kilpatrick

Bukayo Saka is still feeling the disappointment of England's World Cup quarter-final defeat, but says they will be in the mix for Euro 2024 glory next summer after Gareth Southgate stayed on as manager.

Saka was one of England's star performers in Qatar, scoring three times as Southgate's side breezed through the group stage and then beat Senegal in the last-16.

However, the Three Lions came unstuck against eventual runners-up France, going down 2-1, despite a fine performance.

"Every time I think about it, I still get a bit of disappointment," the Arsenal forward, who is back in the England camp and preparing for the Euro qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine, told Standard Sport.

"If we had gone that step further, we could have won it. But I still feel like we have an amazing team, an amazing coaching staff and we will be there for the next one."

Following that defeat, Southgate considered stepping down from his post, citing the strain of having led the country in three major tournament cycles. The 52-year-old decided to stay on, however, and will be in the dugout as England start their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign in Italy tomorrow night.

"I am so pleased [the manager] decided to stay on," added Saka. "I really wanted him to. He's been so great on the pitch and off the pitch for me, supporting me and also believing in me. In some big games, putting me in and trusting me, I'll always be grateful for that.

"I hope I can continue to play under him and, hopefully, win something as well. I've played in two big tournaments now and I have got more experience for England."

That sentiment was echoed by Jack Grealish, who like Saka was handed his England debut by Southgate and, in the absence of Marcus Rashford, will be hoping to start on the opposite wing to the Arsenal youngster in Naples.

"I was buzzing," he said of Southgate's decision. "He has given me chances to play for my country. It's the best thing that can happen to you as a player.

"Go and ask anyone in that changing room what they think of Gareth — they would all say the same. He is a brilliant manager and a brilliant person as well. I can't speak highly enough of him for what he has done for me."

Bukayo Saka taking on Theo Hernandez and Adrien Rabiot in Qatar. (Getty Images) © Provided by Evening Standard Bukayo Saka taking on Theo Hernandez and Adrien Rabiot in Qatar. (Getty Images)

Grealish was consigned to an impact substitute role in Qatar and came on only in the dying minutes of the France defeat, but believes he is now in his best form since his £100million move to City as he pushes for a starting berth.

"At the moment, I feel a bit like I did when I was at Aston Villa," he added. "I feel like one of the main players and I feel that playing a lot, it's the fittest I have been."

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