June 20, 2024

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Dani Carvajal – Real Madrid’s unlikely Champions League hero who laid the foundation with Di Stéfano

Dani Carvajal – Real Madrid’s unlikely Champions League hero who laid the foundation with Di Stéfano

“I don’t know what to say, it’s just tremendous happiness,” Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal said minutes after the final whistle after beating Borussia Dortmund at Wembley in the Champions League on Saturday.

Carvajal, the team’s right-back, was the unexpected scorer of their decisive first goal in a 2-0 win, with Vinicius Junior’s late strike ensuring Real Madrid won their 15th European Cup.

Real Madrid were on the defensive for large parts of the match and Dortmund wasted a series of chances to cause a major upset before the 5ft 7in (170cm) Carvajal leaped high to score with a header with 17 minutes remaining.

We knew it would be a difficult match; “They were very superior in the first half but we came out alive,” Carvajal told Movistar TV. “We knew our moment would come, and it did, and we have the 15th.”


Carvajal scores the vital opening goal (Ena Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images)

The 32-year-old knows better than anyone about Real Madrid’s history in this competition, and the club’s unique knack for rolling with the punches before delivering the knockout blow himself.

Given the magic and legend of Madrid in the Champions League, some would say that Carvajal’s moment against Dortmund was coming. Shortly after joining Madrid’s youth system, he was selected to join the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano in laying the first stone at the club’s new Valdebebas training facility.

Two decades later, Carvajal was asked what it would mean to surpass Di Stéfano’s tally of five European Cups and join 1950s and 1960s hero Paco Gento (who died aged 88 in January 2022), the record holder of six titles.

“When I heard the final whistle, I was really emotional,” he said in the post-match press conference. “I arrived here when I was a little kid, 21 years ago, and we are still making history with this team. It seemed impossible to ever equal Gento. It’s amazing. I wish more would come, but now we are with him.”

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Carvajal also shares six goals with teammates Nacho and Luka Modric, but his journey to that coveted place in the club’s history books has not been easy.

Carvajal has been a Real Madrid fan all his life and was born in Leganes, south of the Spanish capital. He entered the club’s youth system as a 10-year-old, shortly after Madrid’s ninth Champions League win in 2002, which was capped by Zinedine Zidane’s stunning win against Bayer Leverkusen.

Never the best in any of his teams, the young Carvajal had a combination of technical quality and tenacity that his coaches and teammates loved. While still a teenager, he was part of Castilla’s star-studded youth team that gained promotion to Spain’s second division. But while his more talented team-mates Alvaro Morata and Jese Rodriguez were called up to the first team under coach Jose Mourinho, Carvajal was instead sold to Leverkusen for €5m (£4.3m, $5.4m) in July 2012 without a fee. He has joined the first team. The emergence of the Spanish League.

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Not everyone at the club agreed to this invitation, said former Castilla winger Juanfran Moreno The athlete.

Juanfran said: “I played in front of Carvajal (on the right wing) and realized that there was a plane behind me, and I knew that he would make history with Real Madrid.” “Mourinho killed me because I said publicly that I didn’t know why he moved to Bayer. I knew he was ready to play for the first team from his first day in the Castilla reserve. It was very clear.”

Carvajal’s quality was also evident as he quickly settled in at Leverkusen and was a candidate for the best Bundesliga squad for the 2012-13 season. After Real Madrid activated his €6.5 million buyback clause the following summer, he quickly secured a place in the first team under new coach Carlo Ancelotti and played a key role in ending Real Madrid’s long wait for a tenth Champions League title the following June. . .

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Since then, Carvajal has become every Real Madrid coach’s first choice right-back. He is the only player to have been in the starting line-up in each of the six Champions League final victories in the last 11 years. Three under Zidane from 2016 to 2018, and three more under Ancelotti in 2014, 2022 and now 2024.

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Carvajal’s determination and will to win means that he, along with fellow former Castilla players Nacho and Lucas Vazquez, Modric and Toni Kroos, have formed the leadership group in the dressing room this season. This group knows what it takes to succeed in Madrid, and they are not shy about calling out teammates who are not putting in the effort required.

“Nacho and Carvajal’s approach and professionalism in everyday life is an example to their teammates,” said Jorge Casado, a former Castilla player. The athlete. “You can see their influence, their infectious drive to keep improving, to keep winning titles.”

During the first half against Dortmund on Saturday, Carvajal was one of the Real Madrid players who were nowhere near their best. A lack of communication with defensive partner Antonio Rudiger allowed Karim Adeyemi to have the underdogs’ first big chance of the night, although the right-back came back on that occasion to make a vital save.

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There was absolutely nothing Carvajal could do against Adeyemi’s pace towards the end of the first half, as Dortmund’s left winger raced past him with ease and fired a shot that was blocked by Courtois.

But things changed after the end of the first half, and Carvajal was among the Real Madrid players who came out determined that they would not lose. Shortly after the break, he met a Kroos corner kick with a flashing header, but the ball flew too high. Near the hour mark, he reached the back post unmarked, but was unable to get enough power into his shot.

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However, he was not to be denied that, as he rose superbly to slot home another Kroos corner kick in the decisive moment of the final.


Carvajal scores the first goal (Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

“This year, I always go up for corner kicks,” Carvajal told Movistar TV on Saturday evening, smiling. “Determination has been key for me, in my career. I warned them to aim too high and the second I had to score.

Carvajal was a surprise goalscorer, given that he had only scored in one of his previous 88 Champions League appearances. But something changed this season. He entered Saturday’s final having scored five goals and provided five assists, along with completing his defensive duties as a steadying presence in an injury-hit defense – with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and centre-backs Eder Militao and David Alaba missing most of the season. .

Most of those interventions in attack also came at key moments, and were generally more to do with his personality and determination than any technical brilliance. These include the 99th-minute winner that saw Real Madrid come back from 0-2 down to beat Almería 3-2 in the league at the Bernabeu in January, and then his 85th-minute rebound to equalize in the Spanish Super Cup semi-final. Against Atletico Madrid. Madrid won both awards.

Saturday’s man-of-the-match performance could mean even more for Carvajal, given that some of his previous Champions League victories have been bittersweet for him. He left the field injured during the 2016 win over Atletico Madrid in Milan and the 2018 win over Liverpool in Kiev.

These injuries meant he missed the 2016 European Championship and the 2018 World Cup for Spain. But he will be part of the Euros this summer as a key member of the starting lineup and a very influential voice in the dressing room.

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(Top Image: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)