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Euro 2024: The moment when Lamine Yamal found his greatness | Football News

It is never easy to pinpoint the moment when the greats first found their greatness. Was it in the backyard? Was it in school? Was it in youth football? Was it perhaps when no one was watching or was it perhaps on the big stage with the world (or at least all of Europe) watching? When is it that they knew…

Spain forward Lamine Yamal celebrates scoring his team's first goal in the Euro 2024 semi-final against France in Munich. (AFP)
Spain forward Lamine Yamal celebrates scoring his team’s first goal in the Euro 2024 semi-final against France in Munich. (AFP)

We can ask these questions to many of the great athletes to have graced the sporting world and the answers might not be very obvious but we probably won’t need to ask Lamine Yamal any of this.

The reason for that being the goal he scored against France in the semi-final of Euro 2024. The teenager, who turns 17 on July 13, moved inside in the 21st minute and picked up a loose ball more than 25 metres from goal.

The beauty was in the setup. With a drop of the shoulder, he sold Adrien Rabiot a dummy and stole some space for himself before unleashing a wondrous strike, sending the ball arcing into the top-right corner of Mike Maignan’s goal. The xG (an xG model uses historical information from thousands of shots with similar characteristics to estimate the likelihood of a goal) of the shot, according to UEFA, was just 0.023.

In the U-17 Euro semi-final against France in 2023, he had scored a strikingly similar goal. So, everyone knew he could do it. But to do it in the semi-final of a major championship with your side already down a goal requires character and talent of a special kind. Sometimes the moment chooses you, and sometimes you choose the moment.

The goal inspired Spain’s 2-1 comeback win over France with Dani Olmo getting the winner in the 25th minute.

A legend in the making

Some goals stay with you for life. Some players too. If you close your eyes and give it a quick think, perhaps the Ronaldo 2.93m jump for a header (Real Madrid vs Man United in 2012/13) will come to mind, the Messi goal against Getafe (2007), Mbappe’s 38kph run against Argentina (2018 World Cup), Pele’s pass to Carlos Alberto (1970 World Cup), Maradona against England in 1986, or even Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s incredible ‘propeller kick’ goal against England in 2012.

The list isn’t exhaustive by any means and everyone probably has a different one but Yamal’s goal against France should have a good chance of being a natural entry into many of those lists. The occasion, the opponent, his age, his maturity all factors but most of all, his footballing intelligence.

As Patrice Evra, a former France captain, said during the broadcast on Sony Sports what makes Yamal special isn’t what he does, rather it is what he doesn’t.

“I usually don’t rate youngsters because I believe that they usually need at least five years to find some consistency,” said Evra. “But what makes him special is him knowing when to hit the ball, when to pass, when to look for space.”

This is a quality that speaks of footballing maturity way beyond his years. He arrived at FC Barcelona at the age of seven from his local club CF La Torreta and at La Masia, their famed academy, he raced through the age categories quicker than any other player of his generation.

He had barely started playing for the U19s when he began training with the first team after catching coach Xavi Hernandez’s eye. And then, aged just 15 years, 9 months and 16 days, he made his debut for Barcelona in a 4-0 win against Real Betis, becoming the youngest player ever to represent Barca.

But all the help still doesn’t explain his genius. The things he does are the ones you are supposed to gain with experience. As a 16-year-old, he could show us a glimpse of exuberance, a move of rare abandon, a fearless attitude and we’d all call it fair. But he is the full package.

He got the goal but after that, he stuck very much to how the coach wanted him to play. Tracking back, making professional fouls and veteran plays.

“I’m thrilled that we are in the final, but we still haven’t done the most important thing, which is win this,” said Yamal after the game.

And the goal? “I was aiming for exactly the top corner where my shot went in. It was a feeling of pure elation.”

The UEFA technical observer panel of Ioan Lupescu, David Moyes and Aitor Karanka spoke about his all-round game: “At such a young age, he works hard defensively and is a threat on the ball, impressing with his positioning and forming a productive partnership with Jesus Navas on the right.”

The data showed that he was joint-second among the Spain players for ball recoveries (four) and joint-first for tackles (three). He also made 18 pressures.

On Tuesday, Yamal made history as the youngest ever scorer in Euro history but, in time, many around the world with forget the statistic but remember the goal… the moment that helped Yamal find his greatness.

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