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‘Perfect end to the season’ – Hat-trick hero Saka ‘so happy’ with display

‘Perfect end to the season’ – Hat-trick hero Saka ‘so happy’ with display

Hat-trick hero Bukayo Saka has labelled England’s 7-0 win over North Macedonia in Euro 2024 qualifying the “perfect end to the season”.

The Arsenal forward, 21, was the player of the match at Old Trafford thanks to his first-ever career treble, helping Gareth Southgate’s side extend their perfect record in Group C to four wins from four matches.

The local supporters also enjoyed a goal for Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, while Manchester City’s Kalvin Phillips netted his first international goal and England’s record scorer Harry Kane added two more to his tally.

Saka was one of Arsenal’s best players last term, helping to spearhead a surprise bid for the Premier League title only to lose out to Manchester City after a stuttering run of form towards the end of the campaign.

Asked how it felt to net his first hat-trick, Saka told Channel 4: “It’s a feeling I can’t put into words. I can’t describe how I’m feeling right now. I’m so happy.

“It’s been a really long season. It’s the end of the season now. I couldn’t have ended it in a better way. Time to relax and have a break.

“Perfect end to the season. We’re really happy with the way the fans turned out and supported us.”

Saka was quizzed on his favourite goal of the night and unsurprisingly picked his second – a stunning volley from 25 yards.

“I like the first one but I’ll go for the second goal. Volley outside the box, top corner,” he said.

“Tonight was a really special display. We went out with me and Rashy [Rashford] down the wings. Sharp, direct. They couldn’t handle us.”

Saka also had a special word of praise for Trent Alexander-Arnold, who excelled in midfield once more and laid on the assist for Saka’s second goal.

“He’s a top player. At half-time he said to me he was going to do that pass. When I scored I was looking for him to thank him. I didn’t have to break my stride.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, England manager Southgate said Saka would never forget his night at Old Trafford.

“All the credit is with him. He works incredibly hard. He’s talented, he’s humble,” Southgate commented.

“He’s hugely popular with all of the players and all of the staff and I have to say his finishing has been like that all week. We weren’t surprised by the first one, that’s how he’s been all week, we hadn’t seen the second one coming!

“I am delighted for him. He’s had a slightly sore Achilles and it’s another one where it would have been easy to lull out on the camp and miss out on a night like this that I’m sure will live with him forever.”

The standard of England’s performance as a whole wasn’t lost on Southgate.

He said: “Really pleasing. I thought there was a fabulous atmosphere in the stadium before the game and that gave everybody a huge lift. It was a brilliant night to play football. The weather was good, the pitch was immaculate, the crowd were buzzing.

“What pleased me the most was that every time we lost the ball the hunger to win it back really set the tone for the performance.

“Then the quality of the play was good and the finishing was ruthless. For the players to have the mentality they have to work, at the late stage of this monster of all seasons, there was every excuse to do that and they’ve not done that.”

Making reference to starting Manchester City’s treble winners John Stones and Kyle Walker in defence, and bringing on Phil Foden and Jack Grealish in the second half, Southgate continued: “There were boys coming back from the biggest week of their lives professionally. We had boys who had two weeks on the beach and could have approached that differently but I think what we are trying to build was apparent for everyone tonight.”

England top the group with 12 points, six more than second-placed Ukraine, having scored 15 goals and conceded one.

They aren’t in action again until September 9 when qualifying resumes with an away game against Ukraine.

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