In the 89th minute, a group of fans, mostly children, crowded behind the Real Madrid bench. They all wanted the same thing — to get a close-up look at Vinicius Junior and try to get a photograph of him.
He had once again been a hero for Madrid, who edged past Las Palmas 2-1 in a tight match.
Seconds earlier, Vinicius Jr had been whistled as he left the pitch after being substituted by Carlo Ancelotti. With the job done, he was in no hurry.
Vinicius Jr shook hands with every player on the bench, then he did the same with the members of the coaching staff sitting on an adjoining bench. With a bottle of water to combat the 20°C (68°F) Gran Canarian heat, he sat down like he was returning home from a long, hard day at work, with the feeling of having done his duty.
There was still a while to go before the referee blew the final whistle, but Vinicius Jr had set his team on the road to another victory, their 10th comeback win of the season.
This one had particular merit given it came in the absence of the suspended Jude Bellingham. It is worth pointing out, however, that Real Madrid, who have lost only two games this season, have won all six matches Bellingham has missed. Against Braga in the Champions League and against Valencia and Las Palmas in La Liga, it has been Vinicius Jr who has come to the fore as the key player.
And yet the afternoon had not started well for Vinicius Jr and his side, as he later acknowledged on Real Madrid TV: “We started a bit slowly, sluggish, but we managed to change the dynamic.”
Without Bellingham, Real Madrid initially looked a little lost. Brahim Diaz, the Englishman’s replacement, was unable to find his rhythm. Dani Ceballos, another change to the line-up, ended the first half with a 76.9 per cent pass accuracy rate, the worst in the team and well below his midfield colleagues Toni Kroos (94 per cent) and Eduardo Camavinga (95.7 per cent).
Vinicius Jr had the best chances in the first half, including a shot that grazed the post and an attempted lob, although the latter was ruled offside.
That’s why it went down badly when, with Real 1-0 down in the second half, he wasted a masterful pass from Kroos and an exquisite control of his own with another sterile attempt at a lob.
But all was soon forgiven. Just two minutes later, this time from a masterful ball over the top from Camavinga, he made no mistake with his left foot. He celebrated very briefly but once again in Cristiano Ronaldo style: pointing to the ground as if to say, “I’m here!”
“Cama (Camavinga) always tells me that I don’t score when he gives me the passes,” Vinicius Jr joked after the game.
Despite the goal, the Madrid bench was still demanding more. At one point, when play stopped, Carlo and Davide Ancelotti, as well as Kroos, gave Vinicius Jr instructions not to relax.
He complied without complaint. Another goal was needed, so he went looking for it, finishing the game having registered seven shots, the most of any Madrid player.
He tried a couple of Modric-like crosses with the outside of his boot. He constantly demanded the ball and even the home crowd could not hide their wonder at some of his trickery.
In the 84th minute, as legs were tiring, Vinicius Jr made an amazing run down the pitch that ended in a corner. Kroos swung the ball into the box and Aurelien Tchouameni headed in to make it 2-1.
Madrid celebrated the impressive header with the gusto the moment deserved, running to the corner where their supporters were stationed. Tchouameni, along with Vinicius Jr and Antonio Rudiger, held their index finger to their heads as if boasting of their mentality.
“The most commendable thing was the desire to come back,” Vinicius Jr said. “We never gave up, we always thought about fighting until the last minute. That’s the point.”
With the defeat still fresh in the air, Las Palmas coach Garcia Pimienta was clear regarding the Brazilian’s superiority and efficiency, even if his team had looked like keeping him in check for so much of the game. “I’ve seen a replay of Vini’s goal and it was a great goal, it was an incredible golazo,” he said. “But of course, the fact that Vinicius had just two chances in the whole game suggests to me he was very well defended.”
With the game over, fans moved as close to the pitch as possible, looking for Vinicius Jr. The Brazilian, friendly as usual, spent some time signing autographs and having his photo taken.
Despite his two injuries, Vinicius Jr has now scored 11 goals, just one fewer than Rodrygo (who has played 847 minutes more) and seven fewer than Bellingham (who has played 806 minutes more). Vinicius Jr has also contributed four assists. He is involved in a goal every 102 minutes.
On Saturday morning, Las Palmas tweeted a poster promoting the match. The image showed Vinicius sat on the sofa at home, watching Las Palmas on a big screen, and saying “They’re very good, my mother.”
👋🏽 ¡Buenos días, afición!
Hoy hay 𝐩𝐚𝐫𝐭𝐢𝐝𝐚𝐳𝐨 en el Gran Canaria y las grandes estrellas juegan de amarillo 😉 ¡𝐒𝐢𝐞𝐦𝐩𝐫𝐞 UD Las Palmas, vamos con todo! 🔥#LasPalmasRealMadrid #MétodoPimientus #LaUniónHaceLasPalmas 💛💙 pic.twitter.com/dVepDol29Q
— UD Las Palmas (@UDLP_Oficial) January 27, 2024
It alluded to the phrase the Brazilian had been caught on camera uttering during the Copa del Rey derby at the Metroplitano earlier this month.
In the end, though, it was Las Palmas that were left in awe of Vinicius.
(Top photo: Pedro Castillo/Real Madrid via Getty Images)
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