“The ability to finish poorly was laid to rest. This should be his night to relish”

 

Florentino Perez, the dynamic boss of Real Madrid, loves the young talents from Brazil – he tracked Neymar long ago and wanted him to don the white shirt, but somehow, it did not happen. Perez knew that he missed a great opportunity and the world witnessed how shabbily the Brazilian was treated in Barcelona. In Real Madrid, the story might have been different.

Since then Perez might have decided that Real Madrid would be the new home for the young talents in Brazil. The project started when the Los Blancos entered a transition phase. Perez signed Brazilian talents and it was Santiago Solari who gave them the breakthrough during that disastrous 2018-19 season. Zinedine Zidane returned to fix things at Real Madrid and he kept the faith in Brazil.

Vinicius Junior was the rising star of Flamengo and Brazil. Perez sent scouts to Brazil to track him and he was satisfied. The dynamic boss did not waste time and on May 23, 2017, Real Madrid signed a contract to acquire Vinícius, effective after his 18th birthday on July 12 2018 because age 18 is the minimum age for international transfer.

He transferred for a reported fee of €46 million, which was at the time, the second most expensive sale of a player in the history of Brazilian football – behind only Neymar – the largest amount received by a Brazilian club for a transfer, and the highest amount ever paid by a club for a footballer under the age of 19.

On July 20 2018, Madrid officially presented Vinicius as a Real Madrid player. He made his debut on September 20 2018, coming in as an 87th-minute substitute in a goalless draw against Atletico Madrid becoming the first-ever Madrid senior player to be born in 2000.

In Real Madrid, the journey of Vinicius has been a topsy-turvy one, but one of his qualities is that he never gives up and that is what impressed Perez and Zidane. Despite the criticisms, Zidane persisted with him and gradually his talents are transforming into deeds.

With Sergio Ramos out injured and Raphael Varane unavailable due to COVID, coach Zinedine Zidane was forced into some defensive adjustments and settled on a four-man back-line instead of three centre-backs, with Lucas Vazquez and Ferland Mendy as full-backs and Eder Militao and Nacho as centre-backs. Meanwhile, in attack, Vinicius was selected to join the in-form Asensio and centre-forward Karim Benzema.

As for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, Thiago Alcantara was a surprising omission in midfield, as Naby Keita got the nod from the German.

The intent of Real Madrid was evident when Alisson was made to flex his muscles and stop a Karim Benzema effort with the match just two minutes old. Three minutes later Benzema offloaded into the left inside channel for Asensio to chase, but he earned a corner off the legs of Kabak in close pursuit.

Two minutes later Vinicius was in action – Asensio attempted to thread the needle and released the Brazilian in the final third – but he moved too soon and was caught offside.

Eleven minutes later a move by Benzema sent Vinicius down the left inside channel with an incisive pass, but Kabak covered well.

Vinicius was gaining momentum.

Nine minutes later the marvellous Kroos,  who dropped deep to the right, inside his own half, floated an eye-catching long ball over the top for the run of Vinicius, who positioned himself beautifully and scripted a wonderful finish on the half-volley after bursting behind Kabak and Kalvin Phillips. He controlled the ball with his chest and it sat up nicely for him to get past Alisson.

Vinícius (20 years, 268 days) became the 2nd youngest scorer ever for Real Madrid in the knockout stages after Raul Gonzalez (18 years, 253 days).

The ability to finish poorly was laid to rest.

This should be his night to relish.

Five minutes later Phillips had to be on his mettle as Vinicius collected a cutback from Benzema. The Brazilian fires at goal, but the under-pressure Phillips negotiated it.

Marco Asensio provided to make it 2-0 nine minutes later. Again, Kroos’s delivery started it but the assist this time came from Alexander-Arnold, who headed into his path. Asensio coolly lifted the ball gently over Alisson.

Asensio almost got another, Liverpool again facilitating things for their opponents. Beyond Kabak, his shot slipped past the post.

In the first half, the brisk temp and complete domination at the centre of the park along with absolute precision in the final third undid Liverpool.

They could hardly dominate.

After the break, Mohamed Salah pulled one back, but it was never going to be enough.

Fourteen minutes later Benzema worked one to Modric on the right edge of the box and he sent a slick pass to Vinicius Junior who shot first time and his strike travelled through the legs of Phillips. Alisson got a hand to the ball, but he can only palm it into the net.

Zidane added some muscle in midfield with the two-goal advantage, with Fede Valverde on for Asensio as the first substitution of the night, followed later by Rodrygo for Vinicius.

From there, Madrid saw out the final minutes camped out in their own half to ensure the two-goal advantage stayed intact.

The two goals Vinicius scored last night matched his Champions League total from 17 previous outings in the competition and comprised 13.3 per cent of his total Real Madrid strikes.

“It’s very nice to win, at the best moment of the season,” Vinicius said post-match in comments carried by MARCA.

“The outsiders speak, I keep working. It gives me the strength I need to get to the important moment and score the goals we need. I work a lot, I’ve always dreamed of playing for Madrid and I think that because of the desire I’ve had all season, at the club and with my family, I always want the best for our fans.”

“I’m happy for him because he needed to score, like Marco [Asensio] or Karim [Benzema] do,” Zidane said on Vinicius.

“He’s playing well, he’s helping the team and he gets a boost by scoring a goal.”

“Vini was lacking goals and he’s going to gain a lot of confidence from today.”

“He deserves it.”

“I don’t know if it was his best game [at Real Madrid], but two goals in a quarterfinal is something very important.”

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From here, one can expect, Vinicius to score more and more goals and create an impact.

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