UEFA Euro 2024: Spain’s wonderkid Lamine Yamal upstages Ronaldo and Mbappe

Spain reached the Euro 2024 final with a 2-1 win against France and a goal for the ages from their prodigy, Lamine Yamal.

Footballer celebrates goal.
Spain's Lamine Yamal became the youngest goal scorer at a European Championships when he netted in the 2-1 Euro 2024 semifinal victory against France [Justin Setterfield/Getty Images]

As the build-up grew before Euro 2024, the limelight shone brightly on the past and present of Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe.

Could the former, now with Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia, inspire Portugal one last time at a European Championships or would the latter live up to the billing as Madrid’s latest Galactico and lead France to glory?

While the pair cancelled each other out in a drab quarterfinal clash, eventually won by the French on penalties, a new star was rising and was about to steal the entire tournament’s show in the 2-1 semifinal victory against France.

When Lamine Yamal shifted his weight ever so slightly, and the ball with it, to lose his marker on the edge of the box on Tuesday night, a new piece of European football history was about to be written – and, with it, a global spotlight was about to fall on the Barcelona prodigy.

In one moment, Spain, France and the world sat up to take note of Yamal

At 16 years of age, Yamal became the youngest player to score in a European championship when his sublime left-footed strike curled in off the post from 20 yards (18 metres) out. In an instant, Spain rejoiced and the world sat up to take notice.

The equaliser shook the French, who arguably never recovered in the match after a promising start that led to Randal Kolo Muani heading in Mbappe’s cross after only eight minutes.

Within four minutes of Yamal’s world-class, highlight-reel, 21st-minute effort, Dani Olmo had slid in the second Spanish goal, in what ultimately turned out to be the game winner.

The story was already written though: a goal for the ages coming with a record, for Yamal, that may never be broken.

“I only ask to win, win and win,” said Yamal, who will turn 17 on Saturday – the day before the Euro 2024 final in Berlin.

“I will celebrate my birthday in Germany with my team.”

The new European record obliterated the old mark which was previously held by Switzerland’s Johan Vonlanthen, who was 18 years and 141 days old when he scored against France at Euro 2004.

Yamal had already claimed a number of firsts in the last two seasons as his stock in Catalonia rose rapidly.

Soccer Football - Euro 2024 - Semi Final - Spain v France - Munich Football Arena, Munich, Germany - July 9, 2024 Spain's Lamine Yamal scores their first goal REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
Spain’s Lamine Yamal whipped in this side’s first goal against France – a moment from which the Spanish never looked back [Lisi Niesner/Reuters]

Born in the heart of Barcelona to a mother from Equatorial Guinea, and a Moroccan father, the winger is the youngest player to debut – and also to score – in the Spanish league, LaLiga. He is also the youngest player to start a Champions League match, and the youngest player to score for Spain.

Just as the French goalkeeper Mike Maignan had to pick himself up after failing to stop Yamal’s feathery, curling strike, so, too, will Mbappe have to arrive in Madrid licking his wounds after a tournament that was just as disappointing for the other Galactico, playing in his last Euros: Ronaldo.

Barca, though, have a new darling in Yamal – a fact they have been aware of for some time, but Spain, and now the world too, have a new superstar to watch.

“I don’t know if it is the best goal of the tournament, but it is the most special goal for me because it is my first goal with the team at a European Championship,” Yamal said when reflecting on his semifinal goal.

“We are very happy to reach the final. Now comes the most important part – winning the title. We were in a difficult stretch after not expecting to concede so early. I just took the ball and wanted to put it right there.

“I don’t try to think about it too much, just enjoy myself and help the team, and if it goes my way, then I am happy [for the goal] and for the win.”

‘We saw a touch of genius’

Netherlands and England await in the final for Spain and both have been given a clear warning shot that there is very good reason that the Spanish have a 100 percent winning record at the tournament.

A close eye will certainly have to be kept on Yamal in the final, especially any attempt to drop the shoulder once more to come inside on his favoured left foot.

Off the field, the global media and fan focus on Yamal will now skyrocket to unquantifiable levels, as will the expectations.

“We saw a touch of genius by a great player who we all know and have to nurture forward,” Spain coach Luis de la Fuente said. “And I can only advise him to keep going forward with the same humility and work ethic and with his feet firmly on the ground.

“He will keep improving with the same attitude, professionalism and maturity that he shows during games, despite being so young, which makes him look older and more experienced than he really is. But above all, he should enjoy playing for us. Hopefully, we can enjoy him for many years.”

Yamal could have had a hat-trick in the 4-1 win against Georgia in the round of 16 tie, but his unselfish play meant he had to wait until the quarterfinal for his first European Championship goal.

The wait, for Lamal and the world, was worth it. He was close to doubling his tally with nine minutes of time remaining, but another sizzling strike flew just over the French bar on that occasion.

“When there was only half an hour to go I was thinking that we were going to the final – I could only think that,” Yamal said.

“And when the referee blew the final whistle, I was very happy because I always remember the last European Championship that I saw with my friends in a shopping mall.

“This is a dream come true to reach the final with the national team.”

A young boy’s dream may have just come true but it feels as though it is only the beginning of a very special journey, regardless of whether Spain wins the tournament. Regrettably, we have seen the last of superstars Ronaldo and Mbappe at Euro 2024 – but Yamal is definitive proof that old sporting memories always make way for new ones, and he still has time to create a further impression in the final on Sunday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies