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Lamine Yamal passes footballing exams and earns Rodri’s respect

<span><a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/soccer/players/3966436/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Lamine Yamal;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Lamine Yamal</a> soaks up the applause of the Spain fans during the semi-final win against France.</span><span>Photograph: Xinhua/Shutterstock</span>

Julian Nagelsmann said Germany weren’t going to kick him out of his socks, but, well, they were going to put their foot in. Adrien Rabiot promised that they were going to take him out of his comfort zone, apply the pressure. He looked good, and there was eulogy implicit in the Frenchman’s words, but if he was going to beat France, he would have to “do more”. And so Lamine Yamal did that, and there, curling in an absurd shot that, still 16 but not scared, took Spain into the final and made him the youngest ever goalscorer at a Euros or a World Cup, ahead of some guy called Edson Arantes do Nascimento.

That and all this. At the end of the semi-final, Rodri, the Spain midfielder who is something like the Spain manager, said he had taken Lamine Yamal aside and congratulated him. “I am very, very proud of him,” Rodri said.

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“People will hold on to the goal, that sudden starring moment from a kid who is 16. And you have to have enormous quality to be able to do that, and doing it in a semi-final speaks to the player he is, the incredible future he has. Very few players can do that,” Rodri insisted. “But I hold on to his defensive commitment, the support he gave teammates, how he closed off spaces, the oxygen he gave us. How complete his game was … and I told him that personally … Chapeau.”

The first thing Lamine Yamal did, after 110 seconds, was bring down a long diagonal, exchange passes with Jesús Navas, and dash away from Rabiot and Théo Hernandez. The second was a foul: not on him, but by him, Hernandez the victim again. So much for the spotty kid with the braces bottling it. And the third was a glorious delivery from which Fabián Ruiz might have put Spain into the lead. All that inside five minutes. The last thing he did, 90 minutes later, was get a yellow card for hauling down Hernandez, one last service.

In the meantime, there had been three shots, 44 touches, two key passes and three tackles attempted, all of them completed. When at last he reached his teammates, forced to go the long way back to the bench, he collapsed on to the floor, exhausted. “As well as the goal, he did exceptional work; he gave everything until the last minute,” the Spain coach, Luis de la Fuente, said. “That makes him an even better player; it will make him mature as a footballer and a person.”

And yet, Rodri was right: people would cling to the goal, remember it above all else. How could they not? “I had hoped that my first goal would be a great goal,” Lamine Yamal said, appearing down by the bus holding his player of the match award. “My little brother, the mini MVP,” Nico Williams called him; Spain’s wingers, a symbol of a new generation, a new team, of a shifting society too, they have become inseparable over the last month. And it was a golazo all right. Almost identical to one he scored a year ago. Against France. In the semi-final of the Euros. At under-17 level.

It has all happened so fast, under-17s, under-19s, straight to the first team. He made his Barcelona debut at 15. It is less than a year since there were conversations with his family to ensure he would choose Spain over Morocco. Some, especially on the other side of the country’s great footballing divide, thought it too fast, even absurd. He still needs parental authorisation to travel abroad with the national team, and Barcelona. There is a tutor assigned to him. At the start of the season, his club’s sporting directorate set a target for the season: for him to complete the fourth year at school. He took his homework and got his exam results down in Donaueschingen.

Related: De la Fuente salutes Lamine Yamal’s ‘touch of genius’ and ‘insatiable’ Spain

He passed that – “I can concentrate on the Euros,” he said – and passed this too. The pitch decides. Asked about Lamine Yamal after the game, Antoine Griezmann said: “You saw him.” Before it, during that countdown thing, Kylian Mbappé had come to greet him. Mbappé, the next great player, inheriting the crown from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, is nine years older. His teammate Jesús Navas, who on Tuesday night became the oldest player to appear in a semi-final, the last man standing from the World Cup-winning team in 2010, when Lamine Yamal was three, is older than his father. He had won five trophies by the time Lamine Yamal was born.

“The last Euros Spain played in, I watched at a shopping centre with my mates,” Lamine Yamal recalled afterwards. “Now I want to enjoy being here. I was talking to my mum and she’s so happy.”

De la Fuente added: “We saw a touch of genius from a player we need to take care of. I will give him advice. I want him to work with the same humility to improve with the same kind of attitude and maturity he shows on the pitch. He looks like a far more experienced player. I celebrate the fact that he is Spanish and in our team, and I hope we can enjoy him for years to come.”

On Saturday, he turns 17, the day before the final. “I’ve told my mum she doesn’t need to get me anything,” he said. “I’ve already got the final, which is my dream and hers too.”