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16-year-old Barca prodigy set to make history with Spain



With his place in the first team of FC Barcelona now cemented beyond doubt, 16-year-old prodigy Lamine Yamal has already managed to turn heads from everywhere due to his immense footballing ability and understanding of the game at his very tender age.

The La Masia star has become one of the key assets under Barcelona head coach Xavi Hernandez this season and it is no secret that the Catalan coach looks to depend on him on various occasions during the ongoing 2023/2024 campaign.

However, Lamine Yamal looks set to take his qualities and talent to the International stage as well. According to Spanish outlet Mundo Deportivo, the 16-year-old is set to make his International debut with the Spanish National Team in their upcoming clash against Georgia for the Euro 2024 qualifiers.

The 16-year-old, should he make his debut for Spain under coach Luis de la Fuente, will become the youngest-ever debutant for the Spanish National Team.

He would be overtaking the previous record held by Barcelona teammate Gavi, who was 17 years and 62 days old while Yamal would be 16 years and 57 days old if he makes his debut in the coming hours.

MD suggests that the most likely introduction of the player into this game will come as a substitute, given the intensity and importance of the clash in regards to Spain’s rather worrying struggles thus far in the group.

While de la Fuente is expected to field a more experienced lineup, it would still not exactly be too big of a surprise to see the Barcelona starlet making a start as Spain’s surprise asset. His contributions in training have been reportedly worth noting and it could lead to a place within the starting eleven.

The 16-year-old is expected to don the number 19 for Spain for the time being. His inclusion in the match will surely be one of the biggest attractions in regards to this European clash.

Spain would ideally need the win to keep their hopes of qualifying for the European championship steady, given that they thus far have managed a victory against Norway but also already suffered defeat at the hands of Scotland.

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The real Joao Felix has finally arrived in La Liga!




The Atletico Madrid loanee scored one and set up another in Saturday’s 5-0 win as Xavi’s side ran riot in Catalunya

Joao Felix scored one, proved instrumental in another, and dictated play for most of his 64 minutes on the pitch as Barcelona battered Real Betis 5-0 on Saturday. The Portugal international, making his full debut, quelled any fears about his fit in this Barca side, providing the cutting edge his team needed in a thrashing.

Felix opened the scoring in fine fashion, latching onto Oriol Romeu’s diagonal ball before evading the goalkeeper and finishing from a tight angle. His movement influenced the second, as the new signing dummied Andreas Christensen’s pass, which fell into Robert Lewandowski’s path — who buried his effort.

But Barca were never quite comfortable in the first half. The occasional wayward pass or miscalculated run left them vulnerable at the back, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen made an important stop to retain a 2-0 lead at the break.

The Blaugrana settled fully after the break, however. Ferran Torres, handed his first start of the season, grabbed the third, curling a free-kick into the bottom corner. Raphinha came off the bench to bag the fourth, finding the same spot with a lashed effort from outside the box. Joao Cancelo got in on the action shortly before full-time, shimmying around his marker before firing across the goalkeeper for his first Barca goal.

Betis offered admittedly little as the game wore on, but with Felix at the centre of it all, this Barcelona team showed how dangerous they can be.

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Chelsea-bound Kendry Paez lights up South American qualifiers




The opening round of South America’s World Cup qualifiers at the end of last week belonged to the veterans, with Lionel Messi and Neymar the standout performers. But, in Tuesday’s second round, there was space for youth to steal the stage.

Just 16, and bound for Chelsea when he turns 18, Kendry Paez is the latest quality product of the remarkable production line at Independiente del Valle, a little club from the outskirts of Quito that has developed the likes of Moisés Caicedo and many of the Ecuador squad. Paez has been enjoying quite a year — scoring in his first game in senior football, when he was still 15 and appearing in the World Cups at Under-17 and Under-20 levels — and now thrown into the cauldron of senior World Cup qualification.

He was a surprise choice to line up at home to Uruguay. Paez had been part of the Ecuador squad since the FIFA friendlies in June, but he had never played before and, going into this match, the consensus was that a few minutes off the bench would be the best he could hope for. Instead, coach Felix Sanchez started the teenage prodigy and come the end of a 2-1 win, was very pleased with his decision.

Paez operated on the right of a midfield trio. Left-footed but able to go either way, there was a swagger and a style about his football, a casual ease of accepting responsibility to set up the play, that was a joy to watch. He did not last the entire game — that would have been too much to expect — but by the time he left the match, with some 20 minutes to go, he had laid on the winning goal.

Against the run of play Uruguay had taken a first half lead, Maxi Araujo working hard down the left to set up an opportunity for Agustín Canobbio. But at the altitude of Quito, Ecuador were always favourites and took the points despite watching all-time top scorer Enner Valencia shoot wide from a penalty.

It was a set-piece that turned the game — a corner struck from the left by Caicedo. Just before the interval one of Caicedo’s right-footed crosses was met by a towering header from centre-back Félix Torres. And then, in the second half, Caicedo started to vary the repertoire. He worked some short corners, and from one of them he slipped Paez, his future Chelsea teammate, to the bye-line. Paez played in a low cross and there was Torres once more, this time stretching out a leg to win the game.

Ecuador’s first three points sees them move in the table to … no points. They entered the campaign carrying a three-point penalty for administrative errors in the Qatar qualifiers, and so this win merely serves to cancel out their punishment. The expanded World Cup mean that six South American teams qualify automatically for 2026, with a seventh going into a playoff, so Ecuador are entitled to dream of Paez helping them to more wins on the way to World Cup 2026, and for many years beyond.

Ecuador now finds themselves six points behind the joint leaders, Brazil and Argentina; the only teams to have won both their opening matches. They went about the second win in contrasting styles. Argentina’s 3-0 triumph away to Bolívia was highly impressive. The extreme altitude of La Paz is notoriously tough for unacclimatised opponents, and the world champions decided not to risk Messi. Without their talisman the young midfield performed with great maturity, dictating the tempo of the game and passing their way through the Bolivian defence.

Brazil, meanwhile, were much less eye-catching in their 1-0 win away to Peru. They were never in real defensive danger, but their passing had little of the fluency of Friday’s big win over Bolivia. Neymar could not produce the fine form he showed that night, and amid a succession of passing errors the game appeared to be drifting towards a goalless draw, which was a little hard on Richarlison, Brazil’s out of form centre-forward, who thought he had headed Brazil into a first half lead only to have it chalked off for offside after an agonising seven minute wait for a VAR decision. In the end, though, it was aerial power that carried the day, Marquinhos stealing the points with a clever run in front of the near post to glance home a Neymar corner.

Behind Brazil and Argentina in the early table are Colombia, who moved up to four points with a hard fought 0-0 draw away to Chile. And then, joining Uruguay on three points, are Venezuela who opened their account with a 1-0 win at home to Paraguay.

If the night belonged to Ecuador’s 16-year-old Kendry Paez, then he has to share some of the glory with Salomon Rondon, Venezuela’s 33-year-old centre-forward. The tragedy of Venezuela’s previous campaign was that they were seldom able to call up their key target man striker, who was either in China or England and was ruled out by COVID restrictions. Now, he may be a little past his best. But when Venezuela were awarded a late penalty, he did not flinch. Paez can dream of many World Cups to come but big Rondon has one chance left and he kept those hopes alive with a high-pressure goal.

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Star Profile

Günter Netzer: the original Bundesliga superstar




Playmaker and playboy, rebel and realist, multi-faceted businessman and prize-winning television pundit: Günter Netzer was the first true Bundesliga superstar.

Spearhead of a golden Foals generation
Two Bundesliga titles with Borussia Mönchengladbach at the start of the 1970s, two La Liga ones with Real Madrid midway through the same decade, and a UEFA European Championship winner’s medal as West Germany’s creative linchpin in 1972 provide the bare statistical bones of a playing career that still resonates down through the decades. Netzer was, and remains, one of a kind.

As a youngster playing for hometown club 1. FC Mönchengladbach, Günter’s precocious talent for combining football and finance came back to haunt his father, with whom he had agreed a five Deutschemark bonus for every goal he scored. After one particularly productive outing, Netzer later recalled that his dad had insisted on renegotiating terms. “I could certainly see where he was coming from. Five marks multiplied by 28 goals was a fairly gigantic sum back then.”

At 19, Netzer penned his first professional contract at Gladbach and by the time the club made the leap from the Regionalliga to the Bundesliga two years later, in 1965, Netzer was already running the show in midfield. Alongside the likes of Berti Vogts, Herbert Laumen and Jupp Heynckes, the loping general with the trademark blonde mane and unmatched skillset was a key player in the original Foals side which rapidly rose to challenge Bayern Munich as the dominant domestic force for most of the 1970s. “For me, it was heaven,” Netzer recalled. “To have the opportunity to help build up something like that in my own back yard.”

‘A genius’

Help he certainly did. “Günter was a footballing genius,” fellow Mönchengladbach native and Borussia’s all-time top scorer Heynckes later recalled. “A great midfield strategist who made the telling pass and delivered fantastic free-kicks and corners.” As Netzer’s on-field fame grew, so his off-field interests expanded. As well as opening a night club in the city and developing a penchant for Ferraris, Netzer enjoyed mixing with Germany’s artistic community, noting with fascination “the crazy way they go about their business, and how they compare with footballers.”

Netzer subbed himself on in the 1973 DFB Cup final… and duly won it. – IMAGO/Horstmüller

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Anything but your average footballer himself, the playmaker general bowed out at Gladbach in unforgettable fashion in the 1973 DFB Cup final. Having been controversially left out of the starting XI by head coach Hennes Weisweiler, he took the liberty of subbing himself on in extra time, before promptly drilling home a spectacular winner against regional rivals Cologne. With that, he was off to Real Madrid and further title success.

Highs and lows

Netzer’s finest hour with the national team came in 1972, meanwhile, when his inspirational midfield displays helped a West Germany team widely considered the most exciting of the pre-reunification era to European Championship success. A first-ever victory over England at Wembley in the quarter-finals helped pave the way for a one-sided demolition of the USSR in the final.

Wolfgang Overath (l.) had pulled ahead of Netzer (r.) by the time the 1974 FIFA World Cup rolled around. – IMAGO / Frinke
By the time the 1974 FIFA World Cup swung around however, new national team coach Helmut Schön had swung towards Cologne’s Wolfgang Overath as his creative playmaker of choice, and Netzer barely featured as the hosts marched through to their second world title. He duly picked up his winner’s medal but, true to character, admitted that he “never really felt like a world champion.”

Bundesliga hitting the ‘absolute summit’

His fame nonetheless continues to precede him like few other members of that triumphant class of ’74, and that is doubtless down to subsequent high-profile ventures into management and above all television punditry. In that capacity, Netzer was an unsurprisingly trenchant critic of substandard football, although without ever being inclined to wallow in any perceived golden age from his own playing days. Reflecting on the Bundesliga’s 50th anniversary 10 years ago, on the back of the first all-German UEFA Champions League final between Bayern and Borussia Dortmund in 2013, he noted, “We’re at the absolute summit, with records falling left, right and centre. On a sporting level, it can hardly get any better.”

Netzer’s footprints are part of the DFB Walk of Fame in Berlin. – Bongarts/Getty Images
For the national team, itself very much a child of the Bundesliga, it did indeed get better and Germany’s spectacular fourth World Cup triumph in Brazil in 2014 will live long in the memory. Together with long-standing co-analyst Gerhard Delling, Netzer was also awarded a national media prize for language in 2008. First and foremost, though, he is remembered to this day for his eloquence out on the pitch, and as the exceptional footballing talent who broke the Bundesliga mould.

Career statistics:

Date of birth: 14 September 1944
Bundesliga appearances: 230
Bundesliga goals: 82
Bundesliga champion: 1970, 1971
DFB Cup winner: 1973

Season, club, appearances/goals:

1965/66, Gladbach, 31/13
1966/67, Gladbach, 31/11
1967/68, Gladbach, 34/13
1968/69, Gladbach, 27/10
1969/70, Gladbach, 29/6
1970/71, Gladbach, 32/9
1971/72, Gladbach, 28/17
1972/73, Gladbach, 18/3

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