Two English Premier League players with almost identical names are making waves with their respective teams in Nations Cup qualifiers in two continents – Europe and Africa.
Nigerian-born Bukayo Saka is the toast of the England team in their Euro 2024 qualifying series as the smiling Arsenal star created England’s opener for Harry Kane in the comfortable 2-0 victory over Ukraine at Wembley on Sunday, then scored an absolute beauty himself to seal the man-of-the-match award.
In Africa, Patson Daka scored a double on Sunday to guide Zambia to a 2-0 away win over Lesotho in Africa Cup of Nations qualification and strengthen their chances of qualifying for next year’s finals.
The Leicester City attacker played a centre forward role forZambia and tucked away opportunities in the 14th and 69th minute, both set up by Scottish-based Fashion Sakala.
It was a second successive win since Avram Grant took over as coach and puts Zambia top of Group H, from which only one team qualifies.
Back to Europe, Saka’s curled effort was his eighth goal for England and in his last 16 national appearances has 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 favourites 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.