Yamal, 16, shoots for stars with goal for ages

Spark is back in Spain as they storm past France to 2024 Euros final
Spain’s Lamine Yamal 
scores his team’s first 
goal  against France in 
the Euro semifinal
Spain’s Lamine Yamal scores his team’s first goal against France in the Euro semifinal(Photo | AFP)

CHENNAI: When it was put to Didier Deschamps that watching the French team may be a bit boring, the coach had come up with a combative suggestion. “If you are bored, please change channels,” he had said. “I don’t have a problem.” For people who went against the advice of the French coach on Tuesday night, they will have gone to sleep with one of the images of the European Championships. Lamine Yamal, who will continue to tick the box named ‘minor’ in every form for the next year, produced a goal worthy of winning any football match. In the process, Spain progressed to the final, 2-1 winners over Deschamps’ ‘sufferball’.

If France made their bed with ‘sufferball’, Spain have added a few grams of magic, lots of pace and given the keys to the future. Here’s an example which best illustrates the diverging paths of both teams. While France didn’t give a single minute to Warren Zaire Emery, an 18-year-old touted to be the future of French football, Spain made the likes of Yamal and Nico Williams, 21, crucial components of their puzzle.

There is no point in identifying players for the future and preserving them in some liquid if they are good enough to be the present. In Yamal, Spain saw their present. And he delivered with a goal for the ages.

After 20 minutes, France were coasting in the way that only they can. Having scored an early goal — their first from open play in this Euro — they already had designs on a 1-0 win.

And, to be fair, Spain weren’t going anywhere, their midfielders were being shackled and the pace shown by the wingers in some of the earlier games was conspicuous by its absence.

Step forward, Yamal. After picking up the ball just inside the right half space from the better part of 30 yards out, he danced one way and another while keeping every available option in play. Alvaro Morata, for instance, had peeled off towards the right-hand side. On the left, Nico Williams was free. He had both those passes on. But with a number of French players not covering the angle for a shot, Yamal stepped inside before letting fly a curling, dipping effort which hit the inside off the post before nestling in the back of the net. This is what football, or any sport, should be about.

Freedom. Joy. Ability to express yourself freely without the fear of failure. Players doing something so ludicrous it helps you forget the real world for a few minutes.

In over 90 years of World Cup and the Euros, nobody this young had scored. The previous youngest to score? Pele. Yup, *that* Pele when he dazzled the world in 1958. He turned out to be pretty decent.

During the course of the last month in Germany, he had to clear his exams at school. Some of his teammates -- one of them, Jesus Navas, at 39, is older than his father -- have ribbed him about his age. But do not let that deceive his innate natural ability with a ball at his feat. Coming into the event, in 38 La Liga appearances for Barcelona, he had five goals and eight assists in over 2200 minutes. Even in the cutthroat world of modern football, here was a player Barcelona was willing to invest in. You can see why.

When Yamal’s ability was broadcast to the wider world after his dazzling displays in a few of the group stage games, one of those aggregator-type handles on X suggested that the Spaniard, a child born to two people from Equatorial Guinea and Morocco, was breaking a vague German law which held that minors wouldn’t be permitted to work post 8.00 PM. A clause in the law allows sportspersons to function till 11.00 PM.

At 8.45 PM local time, Yamal changed the trajectory of the match. Around 10.45 PM local time, Yamal was substituted. In the intervening two hours, a legend was born. “We have seen a genius, the product of a genius,” De la Fuente told reporters after the match. “He’s a player we have to take care of. I have to give him the advice to keep working with the same humility and keep his feet on the floor. He would keep growing but this maturity and attitude at such a young age is like that of a more experienced player.”

At 8.45 PM on Sunday, Yamal & 10 other Spaniards will take to the field again. It won’t be

boring. Result: Spain 2 1 France

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