For those unfamiliar with the lexicon of NBA basketball, a unicorn is used to describe a young player of rare talent who defies positional stereotypes.
They are few in number, hence the mythical creature comparison, but what binds them together is their ability to do it all in a game that has traditionally been about specific roles.
Fitting, then, that one of the images of this tournament has been Bukayo Saka riding an inflatable one in the swimming pool at St George’s Park.
The Arsenal teenager has spent the past couple of weeks announcing his rare talent to a global audience, transforming from supposedly a fringe member of Gareth Southgate’s squad to the manager’s favoured choice on the right wing in defining contests.
It has been a remarkable rise for a young man who less than two months ago was a rare beacon of light at a club in disarray and is suddenly one of the summer’s success stories.
When England needed someone to step up in the moments after falling behind for the first time all tournament, it was Saka who provided the spark.
He had started slowly last night as the majority of England’s early attacks came from Raheem Sterling on the opposite flank but, as he did against Germany in the round of 16, his fearless and incisive running had a transformative effect.
The anxiety was increasing exponentially in the nine minutes between Mikkel Damsgaard becoming the first player to find a way past Jordan Pickford and Simon Kjaer turning Saka’s low cross from the right into his own net when under pressure from Sterling.
Before that there was another threatening run from the right to help wrest back some control at a point when Southgate and Kyle Walker were urging Pickford to calm down, supporters were beginning to think not again and Denmark really fancied their chances.
The final twist arrived long after Saka was replaced by Jack Grealish, who was ineffective and then taken off for the defensive presence of Kieran Trippier in extra time, but in their greatest moment of need it was the youngest player on the pitch who stepped up.
For all the attacking quality, a key reason behind his selection was the desire to curb Denmark’s flying left back Joakim Maehle. Jadon Sancho had left Kyle Walker open to exploitation in spite of some excitement going forward against Ukraine and Saka’s ability to play in more defensive roles – remember the right winger was England’s left wing back last autumn with Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell absent – tipped selection in his favour.
Maehle’s influence was limited to a single dribble and one cross that was cleared away. Walker was exceptional, the unsung hero of England’s march to the final, but Saka’s presence in front of him more than helped.
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Now to the final. Phil Foden provided a notable spark off the bench last night, carrying a far greater threat than the darling of Wembley Jack Grealish, and had started the tournament as undisputed first choice. Yet this was his first action since the Scotland draw and while Saka is unlikely to last the full 90 minutes the body of evidence in favour of him continuing in the XI is getting harder to dispute.
Italy possess few weaknesses but Emerson Palmieri being thrust in at left back following Leonardo Spinazzola’s ruptured achilles is likely to be targeted. The Chelsea player was solid in their win over Spain, yet he has shown a knack for being overrun during several years at Stamford Bridge that may seem ideal for Sancho or Foden.
But England’s unicorn has proven his worth on and off the ball over the past three weeks. The rise is destined to continue for a player who must now rightly be considered among the brightest young talents in the world.
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