Make no mistake, Bukayo Saka is world class

Bukayo Saka of England celebrates with Harry Kane after scoring the team's second goal during the UEFA EURO 2024 qualifying round group C match between England and Ukraine at Wembley Stadium - If Bukayo Saka stays in this kind of form, England can win the Euros - GETTY/Eddie Keogh
Bukayo Saka of England celebrates with Harry Kane after scoring the team's second goal during the UEFA EURO 2024 qualifying round group C match between England and Ukraine at Wembley Stadium - If Bukayo Saka stays in this kind of form, England can win the Euros - GETTY/Eddie Keogh

By Jason Burt, Chief Football Correspondent, at Wembley

Bukayo Saka needs no announcing but these are the kind of sublime performances when the rest of the world really takes notice.

The 21-year-old scored a superb goal, his eighth for England – and only four players, all centre-forwards, have ever scored more by the same age – having already provided record-holder Harry Kane with his 55th as they dominated Ukraine.

And England did so with a kind of confident assurance that marks them out as one of the favourites for next year’s European Championships.

That may sound premature talk, given the tournament is more than 14 months away, but make no mistake England will be there having quickly taken control of Group C with a maximum six points from their opening two fixtures after winning in Italy for the first time in 62 years.

Gareth Southgate had urged his team, with the impressive James Maddison making his first start more than three years after his debut and his only previous appearance, to focus on winning the crucial qualifier as they would against any opponent despite the sympathy for the invaded country. They did exactly that in a resoundingly professional display that showed their growing maturity.

The fit-again Jordan Henderson was outstanding in midfield, as was 19-year-old Jude Bellingham who drew one audible gasp when he dribbled through a crowd of Ukrainian players early in the second half.

But this one belonged to Saka.

As with Arsenal the star boy demonstrated his importance and the threat he poses as he has moved up a level. No-one would dispute that he is a world-class talent, as increasingly influential for his country as he is for his club. This is no longer about potential.

Even as talented a player as Ruslan Malinovskyi was reduced to simply pulling Saka back on the edge of the Ukrainian penalty area as he was again turned by the winger.

But it was Saka’s role in England’s two first-half goals, three minutes apart, which was vital. For Kane’s strike, after the captain was presented pre-match with a Golden Boot having overtaken Wayne Rooney’s all-time goal-scorer record with his penalty in Naples, it was Saka who provided the pinpoint, inswinging cross.

Kane started the move with a fine switch of play from left to right to pick out Saka who returned the ball – in what was effectively a huge one-two – over the Ukraine defence for Kane to guide in a volley from close-range.

It says much about Kane’s mindset that he had fluffed a similar chance, an easier chance, minutes before but did not allow that to faze him. As he once said, missing one opportunity only means that statistically he is likely to take the next one.

Where once it was Kane and Raheem Sterling who were guaranteed starters in England’s attack now it is Kane and Saka. It feels like they have worked each other out and that this is a killer combination.

In Southgate’s preferred 4-3-3 formation it means, remarkably, that Sterling, Marcus Rashford, both out injured, Phil Foden – absent after having his appendix removed – Jack Grealish and Maddison are all effectively fighting for one place. Add Mason Mount to that too, unless he becomes more of a midfielder, and that is some roster for Southgate to have.

Saka surpassed his assist with the quality of his goal as he collected a square pass from Henderson, allowing the ball to run across his body, shimmying away from Mykola Matviyenko to arc a wonderful left-foot shot high into the corner from 20 plus yards out. It was an absolute cracker from Saka.

Having scored four goals in his first 20 appearances for England, he has claimed four in his last six which – rather as Sterling caught fire with his strike-rate – suggests he is moving up a level.

Goals are the currency Saka needs. And that counts for Arsenal, also. Saka has been directly involved in 23 goals in his last 34 appearances, scoring 16 and providing seven assists. Those are the ruthless stats from a smiling assassin.

Saka has clearly kicked on since the World Cup and what is interesting about him is not just his ability and personality but his huge popularity. There appears to no edge to someone whose grin is as wide as that Wembley arch and is as prominent for England off the pitch as he is on it. “Football is fun,” Saka said and you do not hear that often from such an elite player.

It can be no coincidence that he is so visible in all the social media activity promoted by the Football Association. That may seem irrelevant but it does show Saka is comfortable with the profile and therefore the exposure while still so young.

Bellingham has a similar feel to him. These are two young men with the world at their feet and not fazed by that expectation. Bring it on, in fact. “It’s the mentality that is the outstanding part,” Southgate said and given he previously admitted that his team did not “truly believe” they could beat France in the World Cup quarter-final last December that must be encouraging and something to build around.

Sitting on the bench the England manager simply took a swig of water amid the celebrations after Saka’s goal and if that was to give an air of being unflappable then it worked. England were again less dynamic in the second half, but certainly did not lose that control. That meant, however, that they delayed a debut for Ivan Toney who finally replaced Kane in the 81st minute to become only the third Brentford player to win an England cap. Toney should be another attacker to add to the mix. But England are, emphatically, about Kane and about the ebullient, infectious Saka.

England 2 Ukraine 0: as it happened

07:42 PM

The ratings

Saka shines as Maddison justifies selection. Mike McGrath has his 1-10 paddles out ...

07:40 PM

And finally ... James Maddison

It almost feels like a second debut, it was so long ago. But I know that's not a thing.

I've worked hard. I love football and just wanted to be back in the England squad. I always watch from my living room and wanted to be part of this.

As a footballer and someone who strives to be successful it's tough to watch your friends playing and not be involved yourself.

It has been a good journey and one I'm proud of. I hope I've gained the manager's trust so he knows he can select me.

I did all right. I will be critical when I watch it back, I always am.

07:39 PM

Southgate on progress

We have broken down a lot of barriers over a period of time. We still had that question mark over some of the bigger teams.

We are starting to win those games now but there is still lots of room for improvement.

To back up the Italy result was important but there is still room to grow.

07:32 PM

Southgate on the result

Really pleased, really pleased with the performance today. In Italy we played very well with the ball in the first half. In the second half we conceded possession cheaply but had to show resilience.

We made a difficult game look straightforward. The way-in was either through James Maddison or Bukayo Saka. We stuck to the task really well.

07:32 PM

Southgate on Saka and Bellingham

It is the mentality that is the outstanding part. Everyone can see technical quality but these two boys have the humility and want to learn. They work unbelievably hard and they are a joy to work with.

It is a top-level finish. That is the ruthless part he has added to his game in the last 18 months or so. There were times you weren't sure he was going to finish but now he has that confidence in front of goal.

07:14 PM

Jude Bellingham speaks

There’s still so much I’ve still got to learn. The way I want to be as a midfielder is someone who can win you the game at both ends of the pitch and dominate the ball in the middle – I’ve always wanted to be somebody who does it a bit of everything. But you have the best chance with the guys in that changing room and at Dortmund.

I'm like a sponge at the moment. Any chance to learn about the game. At Dortmund I'm involved in the build-up a bit more. I'm usually good at judging where the ball [would come] but felt today I was a yard away or two away from where the ball was going to land.

[Captaincy?] It's the biggest dream, the biggest honour but there's a long pecking order. I'll wait my time but it's all about trying to learn from those guys.

07:04 PM

Wonderful scenes

Of Ukraine's players being saluted by their supporters and repaying the favour in kind. More than a game? Always.

07:02 PM

Full time ENG 2 UKR 0

Diligent rather than compelling but England did enough and found the spark for three first-half minutes to tie up a relatively straightforward victory. Ukraine were tactically astute in their early stifling tactics, stopping Rice having the time to play forward passes but the two inspired moments were both England's – Kane's pass to Saka to set up the cross to the first and Saka's shimmy and shot to bend one into the top left-hand corner or 'Top Bin' as a different generation now calls it. They made plenty more chances and should have scored more which makes C4's claim that the mot juste is 'clinical' seem a bit odd to me. But it was comfortable. They after, after all, one of the best teams in the world.

06:57 PM

90+3 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Chance for Grealish after Toney won the ball and fed Gallagher. Grealish takes on the angled shot from the left and Trubin turns it behind. Saka wanted the pass on the right of the box for a better chance of beating the keeper.

06:55 PM

90+1 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Henderson picks out Maguire from the corner. The centre-half has made some space by standing still while his marker was distracted. It's almost on a plate for him, with his feet planted and stable, but he bludgeons his header over.

06:54 PM

90 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

England corner when Sobol blocks Walker's cross. Konoplianka comes on for the last knockings. Stepanenko goes off.

06:53 PM

88 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Chilwell takes the corner and puts it on to Maguire's slab. The Manchester United captain shrewdly nods it down and Grealish, who would have had a tap in, can't telescope his leg out any further to divert it beyond Trubin.

06:51 PM

86 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Grealish is straight into the game with a dinked pass infield from the left to Chilwell who relays it on to Gallagher through a thicket of Ukraine legs. Gallagher snaps a shot from 10 yards straight at Trubin who slaps it behind and they scramble it away for a corner.

06:49 PM

84 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Grealish and Gallagher replace Maddison and Bellingham. Grealish receives a remarkably loud cheer. Lots more Villa than Blues in the house given it drowned out the more muted praise for Bellingham.

06:46 PM

82 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Maddison has looked lively but his poise inside the box hasn't been up to his creativity and swagger outside it.

06:45 PM

80 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Svatok's foul on Kane on halfway is the signal for him to depart with a standing ovation after scoring his 55th goal for England. Time for Ivan Toney to make his debut, the first Brentford player to make his England debut since Les Smith.

06:41 PM

77 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Some movement on the England bench: Ivan Toney appears to be getting stripped and ready to come on.

06:39 PM

75 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Fourth Ukraine sub: Yaremchuk is replaced by Artem Dovbyk.

06:39 PM

73 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Maguire intercepts a pass then gallops into midfield, plastering back that inky fringe with one hand as he runs. He knocks it up to Kane who turns it round the corner for Maddison. He shapes to shoot then slips Bellingham on a run down the left and he crosses through the six-yard box, looking for Saka. Ukraine hack it away. Moments earlier Saka wanted a penalty for a Svatok handball but it was his shoulder that blocked the ball as Saka flicked it to the left.

06:35 PM

71 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

England bank on Saka's left foot, dinking the ball to him, encouraging an encore but from closer in with a left-foot curler. This one is blazed over.

06:33 PM

69 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Malinovskiy yanks Saka's shirt just outside the area on the England right after god shielding and neat flick through Sobol's legs from Walker sent him on course for the box.

Here' Saka's goal if you haven't seen it.

06:31 PM

68 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

England break down the left and Maddison, to the fore, this time decides to do the unselfish thing and try to work in Saka who had infiltrated the box from the right. But on that occasion the shot might have been the better option. The pass was certainly more difficult and he puts it too close to Trubin.

06:30 PM

66 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Good work from Tysgankov up the right allows him to cut inside Chilwell and prod the ball to Yaremchuk, looking for the return and shot. But the centre-forward has the touch of a cart horse and overhits his pass, triggering an England counter.

06:28 PM

64 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

The substitutions have changed Ukraine's formation to 4-4-2 with Malinovskyi now on the left of midfield and Sobol at left-back. Buyalskiy is alongside Yaremchuk for now. England are holding them at bay while they probe.

06:25 PM

61 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Triple Ukraine substitution: Sobol, Buyalskiy and Tsygankov come on for Mudryk, Karavaev and Mykolenko.

06:23 PM

59 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

England break and work the ball out to Saka on the right, Henderson and Walker combining to send him to the byline. He sidefoots a daisycutter through the six-yard box that was half a yard ahead of Kane and a couple of inches behind Bellingham who does make contact but had to make a quarter turn to do so and hence dragged his flick miles wide.

06:21 PM

57 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Rice makes a vital and well-timed interception as Malinovskyi tried to thread a pass through to Yaremchuk.

06:19 PM

55 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

England pop the ball around up he left, up and down the field, probing away, maintaining possession.

06:17 PM

52 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Now Bellingham and Maddison are over on the right and the Dortmund man wants Maddison to slip him into the area for a shot. Maddison, however, does not heed him and has a dig himself, blazing over. Bellingham may be the junior man in years but is the senior vin international experience and inserts a flea into his fellow West Midlander. Stourbridge pulls rank on Cov.

06:14 PM

50 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Pickford chips it into the centre-circle and Maddison links with Bellingham to drive a wedge down the inside-left but Bellingham's lacced  pass, intended for Chilwell's run round Karavaev had too much gas on it.

06:12 PM

48 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Yaremchuk wins the defensive header at the corner and forces England 30 yards back for a throw which they work all the way back to Pickford.

06:11 PM

46 min: ENG 2 UKR 0

Better tempo from Ukraine at the start of the second-half, zipping passes to feet but they run into congestion and Henderson comes away with the ball, when Mudryk gets tied up. He knocks it up to Kane who lays it off to Bellingham and the teenager's delightful flick sends Saka on his way to win a corner ... which begets another.

06:07 PM

The players are back out

No changes yet.

05:55 PM

Half-time ENG 2 UKR 0

England have had the upper hand throughout but only clicked in terms of creating chances about 10 minutes from the end. Saka has been magnificent and must now be the second name on Southgate's team sheet. He has given Mykolenko a torrid time but it hadn't resulted in much more than a Kane air-kick until they linked up perfectly for the opener. And then Saka rolled Matviyenko/Matt Bianco to score his wonderful goal.

05:52 PM

45+1 min ENG 2 UKR 0

The first of three minutes of stoppage time begins with Kane diligentky working back to help out his midfield and stop a Ukraine counter.

05:51 PM

44 min ENG 2 UKR 0

Mudryk works a bit of space between Henderson and Walker but flashes his shot wide.

05:47 PM

42 min ENG 2 UKR 0

England had been huffing and puffing for a while then everything just clicked. Kane's pass to Saka for the first was like a rallying cry. This is how we do it: vision and precision.

05:44 PM


England 2 Ukraine 0 (Saka) Purler! Fed by Henderson's short pass, England's best player takes a touch to cut infield, turns towards goal and bends a left-foot finish unstoppably into the top left corner from the right of the D.

Saka scores - Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs
Saka scores - Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs

05:41 PM


England 1 Ukraine 0 (Kane)  He started the move with a right-foot, bending crossfield to Saka from left to right maybe 30 yards from goal. And then he hung on Kaavaev's shoulder, banking that Saka would cut back on to his left to bend and inswinger towards the far post. Which is what he did and Kane lurked for long enough then burst out of the blocks to blindside the right-back and effect a finish with knee or shin or calf.

Harry Kane scores - James Whitehead / SPP
Harry Kane scores - James Whitehead / SPP

05:40 PM

35 min ENG 0 UKR 0

Henderson arcs a cross towards the back post from the right. Chilwell races in to try to crack a volley from 15 yards but either he didn't shout or Maddison ignored him as the Leicester midfielder peeled away from Svatok and then headed it but without much force as he was backpedalling and craning his neck to reach it.

05:38 PM

32 min ENG 0 UKR 0

Mudryk shows us his speed when he burns down the left but Yaremchuk, who played him down the line, was offside when he received the pass to feet, back to goal. Yaremchuk would be a decent player if he timed his runs better. Someone ought to get hold of him.

05:36 PM

30 min ENG 0 UKR 0

England free-kick on the right, about 35 yards from the goal-line. Maguire and Stones are all offside when the ball is whipped in towards the penalty spot but Kane is not so obviously so. The ball bounces awkwardly and he tries to improvise a finish on the half-volley with a kind of high-kicking stamp with his studs. The ball is sliced over the bar ... and he was offside after all.

05:32 PM

27 min ENG 0 UKR 0

Ukraine defend the free-kick confidently. England keep overloading Mykolenko with the drifting Maddison joining Saka on the right.

05:31 PM

25 min ENG 0 UKR 0

Once again it's Saka vs Mykolenko that opens up an opportunity when he beats him then turns back to let Walker hang up a long diagonal towards the far post. Kane goes for a flying volley and misses everything but fresh air, landing in a heap. England come back down the right again and this time, having been turned once, Mykolenko trips Saka to stop him having another go.

05:27 PM

23 min ENG 0 UKR 0

Malinovskyi skedaddles down the inside-left, England back off and keep backing off, inviting him to shoot. Eventually he RSVP's with a left-foot shot that he scuds straight at Maguire.

05:26 PM

21 min ENG 0 UKR 0

Svatok goes over the ball and lances Bellingham's shin with his right boot. He was trying to make up for an error rather than maim him but it was a bit reckless all the same.

05:25 PM

19 min ENG 0 UKR 0

Saka fancies his chances against Mykolenko, cutting in from the right on to his left to win a corner. Maddison bends it in and after it is cleared, Chilwell has another go, finding Kane at the back post but he can't connect cleanly.

Kane and golden boot - REUTERS/Carl Recine
Kane and golden boot - REUTERS/Carl Recine

05:22 PM

17 min ENG 0 UKR 0

Trubin drops a cross, recovers but Maddison goes in to try to exploit the lapse and catches the keeper late, foot up. 'Every right to go for that,' says the pundit. I thought he was a bit late.

05:20 PM

15 min ENG 0 UKR 0

Yaremchuk drags a right-foot shot wide having hogged a pass that was intended for Malinovskyi's cannier run. The latter would have been onside, Yaremchuk a yard off. He should have got out of the road.

05:18 PM

13 min ENG 0 UKR 0

The high-pitched nature of the 'oohs' and 'ahs' demonstrates how dramatically the crowd at daytime home qualifiers has changed towards youth recently. And the old lags come out at night and at the closing stages of home tournaments.

05:17 PM

11 min ENG 0 UKR 0

Fantastic cross on the run from Chilwell, after a one-two with Rice. He hares down the touchline and whips over an outswinger that breezes past Kane's nose. Had he not stopped momentarily in his run into the box, he may have got there.

05:15 PM

8 min ENG 0 UKR 0

Maddison drifts over to the right to win  a throw-in that Chilwell hurls to Saka in the bx, by the front of the six-yard box. He dinks a volleyed pass to Kane who brings it down and shifts it in front of his stride to make the angle to shoot. Svatok slides in and Kane goes over his leg, getting to his feet shouting for a penalty. The ref waves him away. Some contact, possibly, but it wasn't a foul.

Kane goes down - Robin Jones/Getty Images
Kane goes down - Robin Jones/Getty Images

05:11 PM

6 min ENG 0 UKR 0

Scruffy start so far. Ukraine are very compact without the ball and England's passing has not been precise or crisp enough so far.

05:10 PM

4 min ENG 0 UKR 0

Nice pass from Sudakov slipped diagonally from right to left, gives Mudryk the chance to burst into the box but Walker reads it and mops up. He gives the ball away cheaply but Yaremchuk dawdles over his shot and scuffs it anyway. Maguire and Stones clear their lines.

05:06 PM

2 min ENG 0 UKR 0

Chilwell challenges Malinovskyi as he goes up to win the goalkick in the centre-circle. The Marseille midfielder got there first, flicked it on and Chilwell nutted him in the back of the head. Time for some treatment, a concussion test and a free-kick.

05:05 PM

1 min ENG 0 UKR 0

Saka kicks off for England who shift the ball forward down the left, too hastily and Ukraine let it run out for a goal-kick.

05:03 PM

And now ...

A minute's applause for George Cohen, hero of 66.

05:00 PM

Spirited renditions of the anthems

Ukraine's players draped in their flags, then shake hands before the two sides come together behind a flag bearing the word 'Peace'.

04:57 PM

The FA awards Harry Kane a golden boot

And on comes his wife with his youngest to join him for the photos. Now ... the national anthems.

04:55 PM

Harry Kane, flanked by his children

Leads England out. They are in their home kit of white/navy/white. Ukraine in all yellow.

04:44 PM

More cobbling

Kane's record-breaker boots - Shutterstock
Kane's record-breaker boots - Shutterstock

04:29 PM

Oleksandr Zinchenko speaks

I am asking: 'Why? For what?' It has been one year of nightmare. Most of my family is still in Ukraine. It is our land, our territory our home. Why should we leave? We are trying to do our job and represent our country but [also] help [the people] as much as we can. All the support and help we have received in the UK from the fans ... even me, walking to the shop, a month after the invasion,  some 10-year-old kids came up to me and said, 'We are with you.'

I spoke to [some of my former colleagues at Ufa, where he played as a teenager in Russia] but I hear nothing back. They don't want to say anything. I don't know if they are afraid ... but I want to forget about that part of my life.

I have never been so proud to be Ukrainian. I want to say we are united as Ukrainians. Don't lose your hope. For sure we are going to win. We will win together, together with all the support we have around the world.

04:17 PM

C4 interviews Andriy Shevchenko on what today means for Ukraine

04:11 PM

Your teams in black and white

England  Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Chilwell; Henderson, Rice, Bellingham; Saka, Kane, Maddison.
Substitutes  Ramsdale, Forster, Trippier, Guehi, Dier, Grealish, Phillips, Gallagher, Toney.

Ukraine  Trubin; Karavaev, Svatok, Matviyenko, Mykolenko; Stepanenko, Zinchenko; Malinvoskyi, Sudakov, Mudryk; Yaremchuk.
Substitutes  Lunin, Shevchenko, Sobol, Sarapii, Sydorchuk, Konoplianka, Dovbyk, Miroshnichenko, Buyalskiy, Tsygankov, Bondarenko, Pikhalonok.

03:55 PM

Ukraine line up in a familiar 4-2-3-1

03:53 PM

The art of cobbling

03:52 PM

As Mike McGrath writes ...

England have confirmed Telegraph story this morning in James Maddison making his first international start. Or last night if you ingest information via the world wide web rather than newsprint.

03:50 PM

Three changes for England

Henderson in for Phillips, Chilwell for the suspended Shaw and Maddsion makes his first start, replacing Grealish.

03:45 PM

They're coming home ...

Good afternoon and welcome to live coverage of England's Euro 2024 Group C qualifier against Ukraine from Wembley. This is Gareth Southgate's first match at the national stadium since a 3-3 draw with Germany back in September and their first at home since their exit at the quarter-final stage at the World Cup.

They returned to the qualification treadmill with a 2-1 victory in Naples on Thursday night, bossing the first half and withstanding an Italian second-half renaissance with 10 men even if their game management and attempts at slowing the game down betrayed their lack of nous. There are ways to kill the game that should not be so blatant that they attract bookings – manipulating the ball into areas of the field away from goal and detailing a couple of players to do it is far cannier than individuals delaying restarts. You cannot say elite English players are not as technically gifted as their Continental counterparts any more. But they do lack some guile and craft.

Today they take on Ukraine and there will be an understandable air of heightened emotion in London given the UK's alliance with and wholehearted support for the Ukrainian people following Russia's invasion and the barbarism inflicted on their homeland. Ukraine were the odd man out in a five-team group on Thursday but played a friendly against Brentford B, winning 2-0. They have Everton's Vitaliy Mykolenko, Arsenal's Oleksandr Zinchenko and Chelsea's Mykhailo Mudryk in their ranks but, as ever, since the golden days of Andriy Shevchenko and Sergiy Rebrov, they lack punch up front.

It cost them dearly during their last meeting when England swept them away 4-0 in Rome at the Euro 2020 quarter-final when Harry Kane scored twice, Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson bagged one apiece and Ukraine struggled without someone to hold it up or put chances away.

It struck me covering the Wales match last night that, unlike most of their rivals, Gareth Southgate has managed the age profile of his team perfectly and there were no international retirements after the Euros or World Cup to demand a rebuilding process. But one can't help thinking that the cycle that began in late 2016 will come to a close in Germany. Given that a 24-team finals tournament makes it difficult for the biggest nations not to qualify, the real test comes in 15 months, not here. Fifteen months for this England to be ready for their last dance and take the final step at last. Rob Bagchi