Lamine Yamal stars as Spain make Euro 2024 final dazzling every step along the way

When the moment came when France needed to chase goals, they didn’t quite know what to do after being defensive all tournament

Spain's forward Lamine Yamal. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty
Euro 2024 semi-final: Spain 2 France 1

The first semi-final of Euro 2024 took place in Munich in front of an audience mainly of disappointed Germany fans who had been hoping to watch their team.

A lot of them seemed to have decided not to sell their tickets in order that they could go along and boo the villainous Marc Cucurella, whose unpunished handball is the bitterest German memory of their quarter-final defeat.

They showed incredible diligence in pursuing their vendetta against Cucurella, booing every time he touched the ball over 90 minutes.

But there was also an unexpected bonus to turning up. They can now spend the rest of their lives boasting they were there to witness that goal by Lamine Yamal.


We were told before the game that the Spain winger, who turns 17 on Saturday, would become the youngest player to play in a World Cup or European Championships semi-final.

That record, frankly, seemed confected - all credit to Yamal for a superb achievement, but Pele remains the youngest player to appear in a World Cup semi-final.

But even Pele didn’t mark that occasion with a goal as good as this.

Some 21 minutes had passed in Munich when Yamal received a lay-off from Alvaro Morata 25 metres out to the right of the D. His first touch took the ball towards the centre line of the pitch. Adrien Rabiot faced up to him, William Saliba behind Rabiot, Mike Maignan alert in goal.

Yamal’s next touch shifted it right and the defenders all moved in the same direction. His next touch was a fake touch that shifted the defenders a little more. As they lurched further to Yamal’s right, he doubled back left, and through the fraction of space he had thus created, curled a left-footed shot towards the top left corner of Maignan’s goal.

The arc of the ball was high and cunning and in the heightened awareness of that moment you knew instantly that this was going to be a big problem for Maignan. The French goalkeeper shifted his feet brilliantly and produced a magnificent full-length dive that took his fingertips to within an inch of the ball as it whistled over him and cracked in off the post. He couldn’t have done more to enhance what was surely the goal of Euro 2024.

Yamal’s stunning goal was a jarring end to what had been a French charge. Moments earlier they had almost gone 2-0 up, but Jesus Navas’ ruthless foul prevented Rabiot from finding the unmarked Kylian Mbappé.

No longer wearing the hated protective mask, but frequently rubbing his sore nose, Mbappé had cracked the game open after nine minutes.

Gliding down the French left he suddenly shifted to his right and curled a fantastic cross to the back post, a ball so good Randal Kolo Muani had almost no choice but to head it into the net.

It looked as though France might be easing into gear, taking control with all that power and experience and self-confidence. Yet Spain refused to be intimidated and kept playing their football. Twelve minutes later, Yamal scored that sensational equaliser, and four minutes after that, they were in front.

The Toni Kroos tackle that ended Pedri’s tournament early may have been a blessing in disguise for Spain. Not because Pedri is not an important and excellent player, but because it got Dani Olmo onto the pitch, and Olmo is the kind of lethal sharpshooter that is an asset to any team, especially one which is spearheaded by Alvaro Morata.

Saliba headed a Jesus Navas cross to the edge of the box where Olmo reflexively stretched out his right leg to control it. The touch took the ball left, across his body, and Aurelian Tchouameni moved to close down.

But before the ball had time to bounce, Olmo’s right foot came back across and flicked it right with the outside of his foot, completely deceiving Tchouameni and setting Olmo free into space. His third touch was a vicious right-footed shot towards the far post that bounced in off Jules Koundé, but was going in anyway.

How would the team that had just scored their first open-play goal of the tournament respond to this one-two?

Kylian Mbappé of France looks dejected as he leaves the field after defeat to Spain. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty

The truth is that the France of Deschamps have spent so long focusing on not conceding goals, that when the moment came when they needed to chase goals they didn’t quite know what to do.

Dembele and Mbappé threatened sporadically from the wings, France slung a few diagonal crosses into the box, but it was nothing Spain’s defenders couldn’t deal with.

On 62 minutes Deschamps gambled: Griezmann - who had controversially been left on the bench - Camavinga and Bradley Barcola on for Kante, Rabiot and Kolo Muani. Mbappé moved to the centre with Barcola taking the wing.

Last Friday, De la Fuente had taken off both his dangerous wingers as Germany piled on the pressure. He barely got away with it. This time Yamal and Williams stayed on to threaten on the counter.

With five minutes to go France got the break they had been hoping for - but Mbappé, having cut inside to give himself a clear sight of the target, skied his shot into the France fans behind the goal.

This was Yamal’s night, and the 16-year-old man of the match left the field in injury time to a sustained roar from Spanish and German fans alike.

For those suggesting Euro 24 has lacked great games and outstanding individuals, there’s really just one answer: Spain.

We know now that Sunday’s final in Berlin will include at least one team that has dazzled every step along the way.

Ken Early

Ken Early

Ken Early is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in soccer