Euro 2024: Lamine Yamal’s touch of genius makes football come alive in Spain’s win

In an alternate universe, Lamine Yamal should have been finishing his supper while sitting in front of his TV, getting ready to watch the semi-final of the European Championships. And then, as any other 16-year-old would normally do, she proceeds to worry about homework and what’s in store at school the next day.

Instead, at the full-time whistle, Yamal was shouting into the camera after yet another prodigious night.

“Talk Talk.”

Talk now. Talk now.

Yamal, the schoolboy who had carried his homework to Germany, was out there at the Allianz Arena, in front of over 75,000 fans, against the World Cup finalist, France. He was silencing his doubters after scoring a left-footed strike, which was out of the world.

The goal had been coming. He has been threatening to make this the entire tournament. The youngest-ever footballer to play in a European Championship, he was waiting for that goal to make him the competition’s youngest to do so. He had struck the bar, and put it narrowly wide from close range, all while he had already registered two assists.

But some would say this moment was his destiny for nearly 17 years. Yamal’s father, Mounir Nasraoui, recently shared a picture of a baby Lamine with 20-year-old Lionel Messi. “The beginning of two legends,” said Nasraoui. It’s an odd photoshoot with an awkward Messi giving a bath to a six-month-old Yamal, who is in a plastic bathtub. It’s been well-documented what happened to the long-haired Messi since, and it seems Yamal, too, was bound for something special.

For several years, a question has often popped up from Spain: “What if Messi played for Spain and not Argentina?” The thought was that Messi, who had dual nationality and made his career in Barcelona, ​​would have fit right into the selection because of the football identity shared between Barcelona and the Spanish national team. That pipedream never came to fruition but with Yamal, Spain might have its own version of Messi: a twinkle-toed winger who could provide a zingy twist to its Tiki Taka. Yamal has made Spain fun and unpredictable.

Yamal has followed in Messi’s footsteps but has only improved it thus far. Six years after that photoshoot, Yamal moved to Barcelona and joined La Masia. He was fast-tracked to the Barcelona Juvenil team at just 15 when Xavi called him to the first-team training in September 2022. A first team debut followed in April 2023, when he was just 15 years, nine months and 16 days old, making He is the youngest to play in a Blaugrana shirt in over 100 years after Armando Sagi. His impressive run led to his first Spanish cap at 16 years and 57 days, last year.

He scored on his record-breaking debut against Georgia in 2023, after coming on as a substitute. “Already on television he looked great, but working with him, he seems even better,” remarked Spain coach Luis de la Fuente, earmarking the wiry teenager, who has his braces on and his teeth still falling out, to be an ‘important’ player’ for the national team.

READ | Coach De la Fuente praises Spain’s ‘spirit of sacrifice’

So, for his first European Championship goal, he chose the semi-final as his setting: the day he broke Pele’s record to become the youngest player to play in a major tournament semi-final. It was his last game before he turned 17. This was also the game Yamal was against Kylian Mbappe, widely considered the best player in Europe, running at him on the same flank. And Spain was trailing by a goal to France after the eighth minute.

Thirteen minutes later, the ball broke to Yamal, 30 yards outside the goal. Yamal took a glance inside before looking to run on the outside with a touch, pulling his marker in front of him along, before he dropped his shoulder and turned goal side again with a single touch. The effort and the touch took his marker out of play, opening a huge space in front of him, 25 yards from goal.

Spain’s Lamine Yamal hits the shot which eventually results in his side’s first goal during the Euro 2024 semi-final against France in Munich on Tuesday. | Photo Credit: AP

He then whipped in a left-footed strike, like a golf swing coming down and following through with the ball having the right pace, curling and placing behind it to strike the top left post and crash into the net. It was an outrageous goal for a semi-final of a major international football tournament, leaving only a 16-year-old coming from the boot. The xG for the shot was 0.032, but he’s too young to probably know what an xG is yet. All he saw was what he was capable of.

De la Fuente called the goal a “touch of genius.” “What I am amazed about is his clarity for such a young age,” said Patrice Evra. “When he has to shoot, when he has to pass. He has the personality and the character.”

The French fan, behind Mike Maignan’s goal, who put his hands to his head, knew it even before the ball hit the net. Mbappe acknowledged it, too, by offering a shrug with his lips.

He also made Adrien Rabiot eat his words. At the build-up, Rabiot had taunted Yamal, 13 years his junior. Rabiot was trying to play down the teenager’s hype, talking up the semi-final stage, stating “To play in a Euro final, he will have to do much more than what he has done so far.” Rabiot saw his pre-match barb backfire spectacularly as he was Yamal’s marker, falling for the feign and watching Yamal’s strike float into the net. Yamal answered with his feet: “Talk now, Rabiot.”

The goal sent France into a state of shock; The Blues never really fully recovered from it. For all control and possession, Spain only had two shots on target in the game and scored from both. A classic quick one-two punch with Dani Olmo following up on Yamal’s wondergoal proved to be the knockout blow for France.

Some time ago, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez argued against 90-minute football games, saying that children aged 16-24 are not into football anymore. “We have to change something if we want football to stay alive.”

It was fitting then that it was a 16-year-old Yamal, at that moment at the Allianz Arena, who made football feel alive.

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