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Gareth Southgate has praised Bukayo Saka’s mature performance for England in Sunday night’s Uefa Nations League clash with Belgium despite being on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline.
The Three Lions will not be returning to the finals next autumn after the defeat, with Youri Tielemans and Dries Mertens netting early goals in Leuven before the Red Devils resolutely defended their lead.
Although Saka started on the bench, he came on after just 38 minutes – with England already two goals down – in place of the injured Ben Chilwell.
He gave an excellent account of himself playing at left wingback, creating the joint most chances of any player on the pitch, and Southgate was quick to praise the youngster after the game.
‘I’m so impressed with the performance of the players,’ said the England boss, whose side dominated possession and had twice as many shots as Belgium despite losing. ‘We’ve learned a lot about a lot of players, not only their ability, but their mentality.
‘There were several players who it’s the very early stages of their international careers, who were excellent. ‘Jack [Grealish] is the obvious one, his performance was outstanding, but I also thought Bukayo as well.
‘Coming into a game like that as a very young player, against an experienced player like [Thomas] Meunier. ‘He had an excellent game on the left when he came into it.
‘Tyrone [Mings] as well, that’s a level up from the games he’s been in with us before. ‘But also some other experienced players who played very well. ‘So I take a lot of positives from it, although obviously we don’t want to lose football matches.’