Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Vinicius Junior and Malcom step into shoes of Ronaldo and Messi to light up Copa del Rey clasico

Brazilians play their part in gripping semi-final first leg as Vinicius supplies for Vazquez opener before Malcom levels

Two fast and skillful young Brazilians often stood side by side in Wednesday’s Copa del Rey clasico at Camp Nou. Barcelona’s Malcom, 21 and Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior, 18, were a lively pair as Spain's big two ground out a 1-1 draw in a gripping semi-final first leg. The second leg takes place at Madrid's Bernabeu at the end of the month before the two clubs meet for a third time, in La Liga, on March 3.

With Cristiano Ronaldo in Italy and Lionel Messi 32 in June, that great rivalry in Spain is over. They remain the best two footballers on the planet but Wednesday’s clasico was only the second since 2007 that featured neither in the starting line up. New heroes will emerge and in midfielder Arthur and attacker Vinicius, both teams possess young Brazilians who have impressed in their first seasons . Malcom was en route from Bordeaux to sign for Roma when Barca swooped to sign him for €41 million (Dh171m). Unlike the other two Brazilians, Malcom has so far failed to shine.

“Malcom could be the difference, the man to open up a game on his own,” said his former manager at Bordeaux Gus Poyet. “He was the top goalscorer, he defended too. I knew we had no chance of keeping him.”

Yet he could have left Barca last month. Players want to play, and Malcom wasn’t, but he got his chance to start el clasico in place of Lionel Messi against Madrid because the Argentine was injured in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Valencia, fit enough only for a place on the bench against Madrid.

Vinicius and Arthur started because have established themselves in their respective teams. Vinicius, still only 18, has become one of Madrid’s most important players. He played only 24 minutes under Julen Lopetegui, the man in charge when Vinicius arrived in Spain last summer after a €61 million transfer from Flamengo. That was agreed when Vinicius was just 16 and hadn’t played a single game for the Brazilian club’s first team. Only Neymar, among Brazilian footballers, had cost more. But despite Vinicius showing his skills in pre-season when he looked lively against Manchester United in Miami, he started this season in Madrid’s B team.

Lopetegui’s replacement, Santiago Solari, has used him much more and Vinicius has started Madrid’s last 10 games. No player has set more goals up in the Copa this season than Vinicius.

Vinicius usually starts on the left of the attack and Madrid have won eight of those matches. He was preferred to Gareth Bale on Wednesday, a decision fans agreed with.

Vinicius was heavily involved from the start against Barcelona as his side took the lead only six minutes in, Vinicius squaring to Lucas Vasquez. The 98,000 crowd at Camp Nou was silenced.

Minutes later, Gerard Pique needed all his experience to block from Vinicius after the Brazilian had beaten Ivan Rakitic, who scored his first La Liga goal in the weekend win against Alaves. Despite his age, Vinicius looks unfazed playing for the European and world champions: “Nothing scares me, I don’t fear anything.”

Barca, as expected, created many chances and, for the first time in his Catalan career, Malcom was their main man. He won a 27th minute free kick and curled it towards goal; he cut in dangerously from the right and won another free kick five minutes later. Malcom dribbled and looked a threat. He has started only one league game all season.

Barcelona's Malcom, centre, celebrates his equaliser against Real Madrid. EPA
Barcelona's Malcom, centre, celebrates his equaliser against Real Madrid. EPA

Malcom equalised for Barca after 57 minutes, Luis Suarez’s shot hit the post and skimmed across to Malcom who controlled the ball as Madrid defenders rushed towards him and struck it beyond them into Keylor Navas’ goal. As players from both sides surrounded the referee, Malcom celebrated with abandon. “We hope the goal helps Malcom,” said Barca manager Ernesto Valverde.

Vinicius is as callow as his age suggests. He creates but his finishing remains erratic. He had one first-half shot which earned some stern words from Marcelo, yet he was a key player for Madrid and his four first-half attempts on goal were as many as all the Barca players combined.

Both young Brazilians were withdrawn in the second half; Vinicius for Gareth Bale after 64 minutes. Twelve minutes later, Malcom was given an ovation as he left the pitch, his lively first half in which he had combined well with Nelson Semedo recognised by the Catalan faithful. It wasn’t quite as loud as that which Messi received when he came on after 63 minutes, but Malcom isn’t Messi.

Arthur, the third young Brazilian involved, played 90 minutes. He’s a balancing force, like Xavi: a fast one-touch passer more suited to Barca’s play than Philippe Coutinho. Coutinho was yet another Brazilian in the derby but he still looks shorn of confidence and unable to light the game up as he did so often at Liverpool, unlike his young compatriots.

Updated: February 7, 2019 12:15 PM



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