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The Legend Of Lamine Yamal Has Its First Chapter

Players of Spain celebrate on the bench as Lamine Yamal of Spain celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA EURO 2024 Semi-Final match between Spain and France at Munich Football Arena on July 09, 2024 in Munich, Germany.
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

There are times during the course of a sporting event when something so spectacular happens that it immediately detaches itself from the surrounding context and becomes an object all its own. Lamine Yamal's goal during Tuesday's semifinal between Spain and France was one of those times.

The word for this phenomenon is transcendence. Lamine Yamal collected a loose ball, leaned to his right, leaned to his left, swung his left leg, and transcended. The phases of time united. There was the present: What a shot! What precision! What power! What a moment, down a goal 20 minutes into the semis of the European Championship, against Kylian Mbappé's France! There was the past: He's still just 16 years old! Hell, his dad is only 32! The youngest ever goalscorer at the Euros! What were you doing 16 years ago? What was your biggest accomplishment when you were 16? He's still just 16 years old! There was the future: Is what we witnessed merely the birth of something bigger? What will Lamine be in five years? In 10? In 20? Is this where we'll start the stories we'll tell our proverbial grandchildren, from some bunker deep beneath the Earth's irradiated surface, about what it was like to watch the legend that Lamine Yamal may have become?

Time's linearity isn't the only thing the goal transcended. At once the moment became a work of art in and of itself. The feints in the setup, the curve of the ball's trajectory, the image of Mike Maignan's outstretched hand reaching, reaching, reaching, but seeing the ball sail just over his fingertips, the carom off of the post, the tableaux of Lamine sliding on his knees, back to the camera, while in front of him stands a long row of jubilant Spanish faces in substitutes' bibs. An ingenious, beautiful, impeccable work from this young maestro, not his first of its kind but certainly his first masterpiece.

The goal was transcendent in terms of the match itself, too. Prior to Lamine's shot, France had been playing its best soccer of the entire tournament. Spain had flubbed a golden chance at the start of the match when Fabián Ruiz stood before a gorgeous cross into the penalty box—which, fittingly, had come from Lamine Yamal's left foot—but couldn't keep his header down. Minutes later, Randal Kolo Muani stood before a very similar cross and nodded it into Spain's goal. Nine minutes in, the tournament's best defense already had a lead to defend.

At that moment, France finally looked fresh, spritely, and fluid on the ball. Mbappé, who'd teed Kolo Muani up on the goal with a gorgeous cross of his own, had removed his mask and, like Superman taking off his glasses, once again looked like a superhero. Spain had had its chance, missed it, and saw France take its first chance. Everything was set up for Spain, the surprise semifinalists, to bow out of the tournament with dignity against a heavily favored French team that had finally found itself. Spain was down on the scoreboard and, even more importantly, looked to be down emotionally. As the Jorge Valdano quote goes, soccer is a state of mind, and Spain appeared to be in no state to mount a comeback.

Lamine's goal in the 21st minute incinerated the entire context of the match as it had existed up to that point. Like Mbappé himself in the 2022 World Cup final, Lamine had no intention to simply play along with the story it seemed the match was settling into. By choosing to shoot in such a difficult, unexpected position, and by possessing the skill to rip the ball in off the far post from practically a standstill, Lamine completely changed the states of mind of both teams. France may have had Mbappé, but Lamine let everyone know that Spain had him. The emotional lift was palpable. There's no explaining Dani Olmo's go-ahead goal four minutes later, or Spain's brilliantly assured protection of that lead for the rest of the match, without the renewed belief Lamine brought to Spain with a kick that stood outside and above the match.

The one thing the goal couldn't transcend, and which in fact supplied a significant chunk of its transcendent quality, is Lamine Yamal's age. You can see the aforementioned tableaux of the sliding Lamine and the Spanish substitutes' faces, which can be seen at the top of this post, the reactions of his teammates to the strike. In normal circumstances, I would imagine that an early equalizer in a major tournament semifinal would inspire happiness, yes, but happiness mediated through determination and intensity; that almost angry happiness, more "Fuck yeah, now let's go again!" than "Oh my God we did it!" Seconds ago you were losing, you still aren't winning, and there's more than an hour to go in the biggest game of your lives. It's too soon for unalloyed bliss.

And yet when I look at those Spaniards, I only see two faces that bear the expected scowl. The rest are wide-eyed and open-mouthed, brimming with surprise and especially joy. I have to think that the unreserved happiness on those faces is because the players themselves had been transported out of the terms of the match itself due to the goal's transcendence, but were tied just enough to the underlying context to remember that it was a 16-year-old kid who'd done it, with everything his already famous precocity implies. The same thoughts that ran through viewers' minds had to have ran through theirs. How did he do that? How could he do that? He's only 16! What was I doing at 16? And what is he going to do next?

The one definitive answer we all got was to that last question. Next, he was going to continue helping Spain beat the two-time World Cup finalists, maybe not as the match's single best player (Rodri was once again colossal), but as the author of the one moment that changed the game, defined it, and will now stand alone outside of it—the first, and probably not the last, monument to what threatens to be an epochal, transcendent talent.

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