Lamine Yamal seizes his record-breaking moment to turn epic Euro 2024 semi-final Spain’s way

Dave Tickner
Lamine Yamal celebrates his goal for Spain against France in the Euro 2024 semi-final
Lamine Yamal celebrates his goal for Spain against France

He’d threatened it before but has now unquestionably delivered it.

The moment Lamine Yamal’s tournament had been building towards came just after 20 minutes of Spain’s Euro 2024 semi-final victory against France when he effortlessly shimmied away from Adrien Rabiot to create shooting space from a still unpromising position before finding the nanometres of space available to send the ball arcing beyond Mike Maignan’s glove and in off the post.

It was perhaps the most absurd long-range goal yet in a tournament full of them and turned the whole tide of this semi-final. And it was done by a player who turns 17 the day before a final where he will now be the star attraction no matter what happens tomorrow night.

He is the youngest goalscorer at the European Championships by a clear 18 months, setting a record unlikely ever to be beaten. And for it be a goal of such staggering brilliance and enormous importance really does place it among the very greatest moments.

Spain had started the game well, and should have taken the lead when Yamal clipped in a dreamy cross that Fabian Ruiz contrived to head over rather than under the bar. But France had seized control since then.

A revitalised and maskless Kylian Mbappe appeared ready at last to dominate this stage. He pulled Jesus Navas this way and that before sending a mirror image of Yamal’s earlier cross to the back post where Randal Kolo Muani did what Ruiz could not and found the target with his header. It was an effort made all the more impressive by the fact that not 60 seconds earlier he’d had his face forced into the turf by Nacho.

For the first time all tournament there was some zip and spark to France’s attacking play. Didier Deschamps said before the game that Kylian Mbappe at 50 per cent was still worth more than any other player, and he seemed to be operating at far more than that. He could have made it 2-0 himself and his individual battle with Navas threatened in those early minutes to become brutally unfair.

When Navas was booked just past the quarter-hour, it also had the prospect of being very brief.

But Spain survived and then turned the game on its head. Yamal will obviously, inevitably and entirely understandably get the plaudits but their second goal wasn’t too shabby either, new Golden Boot leader Dani Olmo producing two touches of grace and class that suddenly gave him the freedom of the French penalty area before firing a low shot that went in via a doomed Jules Kounde intervention that briefly saw it go down as Yet Another Own Goal in this unerringly weird tournament.

The opening half-hour here was without doubt the best of the tournament to date in terms of drama, action and quality. Not even the wildly unnecessary silver ball could spoil things.

The rest of the game, reasonably enough, could not match what had gone before. But Spain will care not one jot, and should in fact take great comfort in the fact the second half was different. They were able to hold off a France attack that had at least awoke from its slumbers pretty handily, and will go into Sunday’s final as big favourites no matter who emerges from England v Netherlands in Dortmund.

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For France, the frustration will be huge. That their attack finally showed something on a day they were undone by two moments of brilliance at the other end has to irritate, and Mbappe will spend plenty of time thinking on the late chance he blazed high over the bar having worked the ball on to his right foot and into a position from which we’ve all seen him score so many times in the past.

It was Mbappe’s best game of the tournament by some margin, yet he ended it looking for the first time in his career no longer like the next big thing.

We have to be slightly careful with Yamal. The list of teenage Euros goalscorers that he now tops as youngest of the lot is one that rather neatly encapsulates pretty much every career path that might lay before him: Johan Vonlanthen, Wayne Rooney, Renato Sanches, Dragan Stojkovic, Arda Guler, Cristiano Ronaldo.

But it’s very hard to see how he ends up anywhere but the very top of the game. He’s almost there already.

The goal was obviously the stand-out moment, the one that will adorn highlight reels for years to come, but it’s not like it was the only thing. Everything he does is just so absurdly good, and we’re well beyond needing any ‘for his age’ caveats here.

His decision-making is eerily good. His weight of pass as on point as his choice. His runs are full of intelligence and there is never an ounce of wasted effort. He does nothing for the sake of it. There are none of the superfluous tricks and stunts one might expect from a player of his prodigious ball skills and age. Everything has purpose. He really is distressingly and disconcertingly close to being a complete player.

He has already stolen the headlines in his final game as a 16-year-old. It would be brave to bet against him doing exactly the same in his first as a wily 17-year-old veteran five days from now.