Vinicius Junior: Can Real Madrid teenager keep La Liga season alive?
Real Madrid host Barcelona in a must-win Clasico at the Bernabeu on Saturday, knowing only victory will keep their title hopes alive.
Los Blancos are nine points behind their bitter rivals, who handed out a 5-1 thrashing when the teams last met in La Liga in October.
There has been more Clasico success for Barca since then, with the Catalan side staying on track for a fifth successive Copa del Rey by overcoming Real in the semi-finals, including a 3-0 second-leg victory at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.
As Real seek revenge in the second meeting in four days, their hopes are being pinned on an exciting teenager who was their brightest spark in midweek and is now set for his first league Clasico: Vinicius Junior.
Let’s find out more about a player who this week earned his first call-up to the senior Brazil squad and why his spectacular performances have been surrounded by just one significant doubt.
Real act fast to secure the ‘new Neymar’
Right down to the ‘Junior’ appendage to his name, there are several striking similarities between Vinicius and another extravagantly skilful Brazilian forward, Neymar.
Both were touted for superstardom at a very young age, with Neymar given his senior debut for Santos at 17 and continuing his rise before being snapped up by Barcelona – who beat Real in a frantic race for his signature – four years later.
When Brazil’s ‘next big thing’ grabbed the attention of Europe’s elite in the form of Vinicius, Real acted decisively to ensure they didn’t allow another superlative young talent to slip through their fingers.
In May 2017, Vinicius was only 16 and had played just a handful of games for Flamengo – where he had progressed through the youth ranks – when Real committed to sign him.
The deal could not be completed immediately, because Fifa rulings don’t allow clubs to sign players from different continents until they are 18, so Vinicius remained in Brazil, with the two clubs initially agreeing he would stay on loan at Flamengo until the summer of 2019.
However, the youngster’s form in Brazilian football convinced Real to bring him over as soon as possible, so the original plan was abandoned and he swapped Rio de Janeiro for Madrid last July, just a week after his 18th birthday.
Katarina Johnson-Thompson took gold in the pentathlon and Laura Muir retained her 3,000m title in style as Britain led the standings after day one of the European Indoor Championships.
Johnson-Thompson finished with 4,983 points, just missing out on Nataliya Dobrynska’s world record mark of 5,013.
Team-mate Niamh Emerson took silver and France’s Solene Ndama was third.
Scotland’s Muir then stormed away in the last 200 metres to win the evening’s final event.
Muir lapped almost the entire field to cross the line in eight minutes 30.62 seconds and give Britain their second gold of day one in Glasgow.
Konstanze Klosterhalfen of Germany, who led for much of the race, finished second and there was another medal for Britain as Wales’ Melissa Courtney took bronze.
Six months ago Hayley Raso broke her back and thought she may never walk again. Now her dream to play at the Women’s World Cup is back on.
The 24-year-old Australia winger made her international return on Thursday, coming off the bench to score against New Zealand in a 2-0 win in the Cup of Nations in Sydney.
“It was just overwhelming for me,” she said. “I’m just so excited to be out here playing again and to get a goal topped it all off.”
Raso fractured three vertebrae in August 2018 while playing for Portland Thorns in the Women’s Soccer League in the US after colliding with Washington Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe.
“My first thought was, ‘I’ll never be able to walk again’,” she said in an interview with the Australian football union in September.
“I broke down. So many emotions came over me. All I could think about was ‘how am I going to live my life like this?'”
She spent a week and a half in hospital before a gruelling rehabilitation as she learned to walk again.
Raso progressed from a wheelchair to a walking frame, before finally taking her first steps.
“I had a few episodes where I passed out because of the pain and I went into shock,” she told ABC.
“Eventually I was able to get up, slowly and with a lot of help. I was just taking really small steps trying to get around the hospital.”
Raso made her comeback for Brisbane Roar in January, writing on Twitter: “This injury pushed me to my absolute limits.
“This whole journey was an extreme mental and physical battle. I didn’t think I’d make it out, but I am so happy to start my next chapter.”
Her next goal will be making Australia’s squad for the World Cup in France, which starts on 7 June.