Vinicius Junior renews rivalries with Mallorca in Real Madrid defeat
Try as hard as you might, but it’s impossible to remove the grin from Vinicius Junior’s lips for any extended period of time.
Even when he has been bumped, barged and battered all over the pitch, the effervescent Brazilian invariably laughs off the extra attention he receives. Vinicius’ patience was pushed right to the limit after a particularly aggressive approach from Mallorca on Sunday afternoon.
Vinicius was fouled ten times at Son Moix – the most of any Madrid player in a La Liga match since 2013 (per Opta) – as Los Blancos slumped to a 1-0 defeat away from home which dented the reigning champions’ title tilt.
It was only the second time Vinicius had been beaten by Mallorca but he is often beaten up by the island outfit. Here’s how the enmity between Vinicius and Mallorca’s fanbase, management and players has swelled in recent years.
During Vinicius’ first full season as a Madrid player in 2019, the then-teenager endured a defeat eerily similar to Sunday’s loss at Son Moix. After shipping an early goal, Madrid failed to find a way back into the contest with Zinedine Zidane removing Vinicius for the final ten minutes.
Aside from the pang of defeat, Vinicius emerged with no ill-will towards Mallorca.
In fact, the reverse fixture marked a standout moment for Vinicius in his Real Madrid career. Delicately dinking the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper, it was the first sign of Vinicius’ growing confidence and coolness in front of goal, helping Madrid to one of the ten consecutive victories they earned to claim the 2019/20 title.
However, the lack of antagonism in the air may have been conditioned by the absence of fans during La Liga’s lockdown season.
Fans were regrettably back in the stands for Real Madrid’s trip to the Balearic Islands in March 2022. After a year in the second tier, the Segunda, Mallorca had returned to the top flight where a section of the Son Moix crowd launched racist chants at Vinicius according to the Spanish journalist Sergio Quirante.
Vinicius responded by slotting the ball between Sergio Rico’s legs ten minutes after the interval. After hugging Karim Benzema, Vinicius burst into a characteristically joyful bout of dancing which often accompanies his goals.
Pablo Maffeo, Mallorca’s right-back that night, was run ragged by Vinicius, ultimately bringing the Brazilian down for a second-half penalty which Benzema converted.
The 25-year-old has a mixed opinion of Madrid’s wing wizard, revealing in February that he has been on the end of some trash talk: “I think he is a great player, but when last year you are playing and he tells you that you are going to go to the Segunda. It stings inside, in the end we are people.”
When Mallorca travelled to the Santiago Bernabeu in September, the visiting manager, Javier Aguirre, reportedly barked out rugged instructions to combat Vinicius: “Hit him! Hit him!”
Vinicius overheard the demands and wheeled away in shock, repeating the words to his teammate Nacho Fernandez agog. Once again, Vinicius responded with a goal, putting Real Madrid 2-1 up in a match which ultimately ended in a 4-1 victory for the hosts.
After that game, Mallorca’s captain Antonio Raillo said: “Vinicius? Let him dance but he insults and belittles his colleagues. Then when he’s labelled provocative, he uses the joker of racism.”
Earlier this season, Vinicius was accused of “playing the monkey” by a Spanish pundit chastising his joyful celebration. The club and player both denounced it as racism, eliciting worldwide support from fellow Brazilian footballers who urged Vinicius to keep dancing.
Before Madrid travelled to Mallorca on Sunday, Raillo doubled down with his denigration of the winger: “If tomorrow I have to set an example for my children, maybe I would put [Luka] Modric or Benzema, but I could never use Vinicius.”
Midway through the latest meeting between the pair, Raillo showed Vinicius the Mallorca badge, pushing the crest towards the Brazilian’s lips as the hosts defended their early 1-0 lead.
Just to confirm that Mallorca’s hierarchy is aligned in this thinking, Aguirre insisted: “He [Raillo] knows what to say and when to say it, he’s an intelligent player.”
When faced with the wave of negativity emanating from Mallorca’s camp before Madrid’s trip to the island, Ancelotti stood by a player he has nurtured into a Ballon d’Or contender.
“I’ve got four grandchildren and they’ve all got the shirt with Vinicius’ name on the back and they won’t have any other,” Ancelotti cheerily declared.
Vinicius continued to plough forward, offering one of the few attacking thrusts which weren’t limited to slow motion by the sluggish visiting champions on Sunday. An hour into a combative contest, the 22-year-old hared into Mallorca’s box and prodded the ball ahead of Predrag Rajkovic, who clattered into the sinew speeding towards goal.
Marco Asensio missed the spot kick Vinicius had earned, passing up Madrid’s clearest chance of goal in a limp defeat.
Ancelotti defended the Brazilian again after the match. “Everything that happens and has happened is not Vinicius’ fault. He wants to play football and there is an environment of rivals who provoke him and foul him,” Ancelotti said before urging: “We have to look at what happened with him in today’s game.”
Madrid, and Vinicius, in particular took a beating on Sunday. But they and he will be back, with a skip in his step and a smile on his lips.
England will be considered failures if we don’t win Euro 2024
England defender Harry Maguire has revealed he will head to Euro 2024 with the mindset that anything less than winning the competition will be a failure.
The Three Lions have cemented their status as a strong tournament team over the last half-decade under the guidance of Gareth Southgate.
After reaching the FIFA World Cup semi-finals in 2018, England were only denied victory at Euro 2020 on penalties against Italy in the final.
There were high hopes that they could go all the way at the 2022 World Cup over the winter, but were narrowly beaten by reigning champions France in a hard-fought quarter-final.
England kicked off their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign with a 2-1 win at Italy, and speaking to the press post-match, Maguire revealed his ambitions for glory in Germany next summer.
“I think for me, at my age as well, 30 years old now, I’m with a mindset of, ‘If we don’t win the tournament, it’s been a failure’,” he said.
“We’ve got to qualify first – I mean it’s a tough group, [but] we’ve come here and got an amazing result.
“But that’s my mindset. I’ve been at three major tournaments now and I’ve come so close. I believe we have the players to win it. We went into Qatar wanting to win the tournament. So ultimately, when we get knocked out, as a squad we’re disappointed. The performances were good, we kept the most clean sheets at the tournament, we were one of the top goalscorers despite going out in the quarter-final.
“I’m speaking on behalf of myself but I know from speaking to the other lads as well, they were really pleased that Gareth stayed [on as manager]. We’ve built something as a group and he’s been the leader of it. He’s been the one who’s given us hope and given us belief as a country to be successful in these major tournaments and, for sure, it benefits us for us for him to be in charge.
“These big tournaments are decided on the finest margins. We played really well in the World Cup and ultimately, we got knocked out by a good French team. A French team that we believe we can take on and if we play them ten times, we would give them a good game ten times and probably win more than we lose.
“However, they’ve proven over the years that they manage to get the job done better than England do. So it’s something that we’re working on. We have so much talent and so many young players coming through.”
Maguire recognised that England were simply beaten at the 2022 World Cup by a more experienced and successful international side in France.
Despite reservations over Didier Deschamps, the 54-year-old has an incredible tournament record – to have won one final and lost two others is a far better record than most other coaches in the history of football.
England hope to be on a similar path with Southgate, but as Maguire insisted, they need to win a tournament if they’re to be remembered fondly and without tinges of regret.
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