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Euro 2024: Yamal shines for Spain amid jeering crowd

Tom Gennoy
July 10, 2024

Lamine Yamal, Spain's 16-year-old sensation, has been spectacular during Euro 2024. Amid a jeering crowd that threatened to spoil the atmosphere, Yamal played his greatest part yet.

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Lamine Yamal delivers the shot that drew Spain level
Lamine Yamal's stunner opened the door to Spain's berth in the Euro 2024 finalImage: Manuel Blondeau/AOP.Press/IMAGO

It was perhaps inevitable that he'd mention his mom. Parents are a major part of one's frame of reference at the tender age of 16.

"It was my mom's dream, so I'm really happy that my first goal came in a semifinal against France," Lamine Yamal told reporters after Spain's 2-1 win over France in the Euro 2024 semifinals in Munich. 

A teenager who fires his team into a European Championship final, thereby becoming the youngest goalscorer in the competition's history, is still indeed a teenager. There have been breakout stars in the past, and talented adolescents are nothing new. But the scale and pace of his ascent at Euro 2024 have been breathtaking, and the best may be yet to come.

The whole stadium applauded when Yamal was substituted off in second-half injury time. It was a natural, heartfelt homage to a world-class display. Oddly, it was also a rare moment of respect from a crowd that frequently gave in to its ignoble impulses and threatened to spoil the party.

Munich crowd sour over Germany-Spain quarterfinal result

At one of those games with what you might call a largely "neutral" crowd, tens of thousands of locals were anything but impartial. The target of the supporters' ire was defender Marc Cucurella, perpetrator of an involuntary handball that went unpunished in the quarterfinal against Germany.

When Cucurella's name was during the pregame lineup announcements, was he shocked to hear a hail of whistles? Did he tire, at any point in the 90 minutes, of the inexhaustible crowd and its barrage of boos whenever he touched the ball?

France's Jules Kounde in action with Spain's Marc Cucurella
Marc Cucurella (right) was consistently booed by the Munich crowd over a handball that wasn't given against GermanyImage: Michaela Stache/REUTERS

"I don't know, honestly," said Spanish teammate Rodri. "If you ask him, he probably doesn't care much. He only cares that the team is through."

"It's shameful. No player deserves that," said substitute Daniel Vivian. "Coming to a football stadium to boo someone shows a lack of respect. I can't understand it at all."

It was indeed both surprising and unedifying and threatens to leave a sour taste at the end of a month in which Germany has more frequently shown itself to be graceful and hospitable. Asked by DW about the boos, Spain head coach Luis de la Fuente spoke with an evenhandedness that the crowd denied his players.

"I don't know why they booed [Cucurella], but the only thing that they did was to motivate him," de la Fuente said. "He's a great professional, a really mature player, and he knew how to overcome the pressure.

"Germany as a host country has been extraordinary, and I know that the people who booed him don't represent football or Germany as a nation."

Lamine Yamal's spectacular game-deciding goal for Spain

In any case, the crowd's efforts to steal the limelight were insufficient. The stage belonged to the youngest player in the competition's history, an individual who, while still too young to drive a car or vote in an election, appears to have unlimited capacity on the football pitch.

His goal was nothing short of sublime. A good 35 yards out, Yamal shimmied and tip-toed in front of French midfielder Adrien Rabiot. Then, with supreme confidence, he treated himself to a few more square inches of space, barely bothered to look up, and fired a high-flying, fast-dipping shot into goalkeeper Mike Maignan's top-right corner. Rarely does a goal recommend itself so instantly, so convincingly, for an individual accolade; it will be hard to see past this strike for goal of the tournament.

"When you shoot like that, you know where it's going the moment it leaves your foot," Yamal said after the match. "I don't know if it was the best goal of the tournament, but it means the most to me because getting to a final with the national team is something really special."

How Spain became Euro 2024 finalists

Despite the arguable injustice Germany suffered at their hands in the quarters, Spain's advancement to the final will be seen by many as a moral success. While teams like England, Portugal and indeed France have turned enviably talented squads into uniformly languid performances, Spain alone has played fast-flowing, attractive football.

Lionel Messi with Lamine Yamal as an infant
A still up-and-coming Lionel Messi cradles infant Lamine Yamal in his armsImage: Joan Monfort/AP Photo/picture alliance

This night, they fielded a team of extremes in terms of age. Defender Jesus Navas, the sole standing survivor of Spain's 2010 World Cup winning squad, will celebrate his 39th birthday this year. Early on, he and central defender Nacho, 34, were given a torrid time by the French front three. Unable to cope with the fury and pace of France's attacks, Spain suffered an early setback when French forward Randal Kolo Muani converted a well-placed cross from teammate Kylian Mbappe.

But then their standout prodigy stepped forward. Youngster Yamal rode to his team's rescue with an outrageous equalizer. Instantly, the momentum was spun in Spain's favor. Dani Olmo's winner shortly afterward, itself a solo triumph, would not have been possible without his junior teammate's moment of inspiration.

Last week, Yamal's father unearthed a remarkable set of photos from 2007, in which a newborn Lamine is bathed by a baby-faced Lionel Messi. Then 20, Messi's future in football was already looking brilliant. The infant in his arms has now also attained the game's highest level, arriving in a blaze of brilliant performances like this one. Should Spain beat England or the Netherlands in Berlin, his victory will be dedicated to his other parent. Sunday's final will come a day after Yamal's 17th birthday.

"I've already told my mum that if we win, she doesn't have to get me anything," he told reporters after the game. "Winning the final is more than enough. That would be incredible."

Edited by: Chuck Penfold

Tom Gennoy
Tom Gennoy Reporter@TG94__