Players, coaching staff and fans showed their support for Vinicius Junior as Real Madrid beat Rayo Vallecano 2-1 in LaLiga on Wednesday.
Karim Benzema scored the opening goal in the first half and substitute Raul de Tomas levelled late on for Rayo before Rodrygo Goes grabbed an even later winner, but all the attention was on Vinicius after the racist abuse he suffered at Valencia on Sunday.
Real Madrid’s players took to the field wearing Vinicius’ No. 20 shirt, a banner was unveiled prematch saying “We are all Vinicius. Enough is enough” and fans applauded the Brazil international — who missed the game through injury — in the 20th minute.
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All eyes at the Bernabeu were on Vinicius Junior, and he wasn’t even on the pitch. After the racist abuse he suffered at Valencia on Sunday, Real Madrid — the club and the fans — decided to use this game as an opportunity for a very public show of support for the player.
Although Vinicius’ suspension for the red card he received against Valencia was overturned by the Spanish football federation’s competition committee, a knee problem still kept him out of action. His role here was limited to appearing alongside his teammates before kickoff, to the applause of the crowd, before taking a seat in the directors’ box alongside president Florentino Perez.
At times, what was happening out on the pitch itself felt secondary. When the stadium’s scoreboards showed that the game had reached the 20th minute, fans in the Bernabeu’s east stand stood and turned away from the action to cheer Vinicius.
The story is far from over — Vinicius remains hurt and angered by the persistent racist abuse he has suffered this season, Valencia are appealing the five-game stand closure handed to them by the federation for Sunday’s abuse, and the reaction to the saga from some sectors of the Spanish media has been depressing, to say the least — but the hope is that, one small step at a time, the scale of the problem is finally being recognised and proportionate action taken.
It feels strange to focus on football, given the gravity of the Vinicius situation. Not least because this match had the feel of a late-season game with not much at stake for either side, which is exactly what it was.
Madrid’s league ambitions have been reduced to beating rivals Atletico to second place, while Rayo hadn’t entirely given up hope of European football. For Madrid, a number of players need to make statements about their futures, too, and not just those players who are out of contract this summer.
Benzema’s form has been criticised in recent weeks — especially in the Champions League semifinal exit to Manchester City — and here he responded with a nicely taken goal, albeit followed by immediately pulling up with what looked like some muscular discomfort.
In Vinicius’ absence, it was Rodrygo who got the Bernabeu crowd excited, with some trademark clever footwork in the first half. Vinicius has made the left-wing position his own — he’s arguably the best in the world in that role right now — but Rodrygo is a more than capable deputy, and he showed that with an expertly taken winning goal late on.
Left-back Fran Garcia will be back at the Bernabeu next season, and it won’t be wearing a Rayo shirt. A deal to bring Garcia, 23, back to Real Madrid is already in place and will be formalised this summer.
Garcia was always rated as one of Madrid’s most exciting youth products as he came through the club’s academy, and his reputation has only grown in his three years at Rayo as he has become one of LaLiga’s best attacking full-backs.
It remains to be seen whether his role back at Madrid will be as backup to Ferland Mendy — who hasn’t convinced this season either with his performances or his injury record — or whether the club view him as a long-term first-choice option.
As for his Rayo teammates, this has been another hugely successful season, whatever their final finishing position in the table. For Rayo, survival in the first division is a success, and anything beyond that is a bonus. Their test will come next season, with coach Andoni Iraola expected to move on for a new challenge.
BEST: Rodrygo Goes, Real Madrid.
Much of the on-field excitement came when he had the ball at his feet. Scored a superb winner.
BEST: Karim Benzema, Real Madrid.
Took his first-half goal well, even if he doesn’t look fully fit.
BEST: Raul de Tomas, Rayo Vallecano.
Seized his opportunity off the bench.
WORST: Sergio Camello, Rayo Vallecano.
Didn’t get much service and then saw rival de Tomas score.
WORST: Alvaro Garcia, Rayo Vallecano.
Didn’t get many chances to use his blistering pace.
WORST: Antonio Rudiger, Real Madrid.
Looked a little uncomfortable out of position at left-back.
Messages of support for Vinicius from the Real Madrid crowd after the incidents from this past weekend at Valencia.
Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti, on Vinicius: “Morale-wise he’s fine. All the support he’s received has been good. If he didn’t have this discomfort, he’d have played.”
Ancelotti, on the issue of racism: “Everyone is realising what’s happening. Our society is full of intelligent people, above all in Spain, and when inteligent people take decisions things get solved sooner.”
Ancelotti. on Rodrygo’s goal and gesture of support for Vinicius: Rodrygo’s goal, celebration “He gives us a lot, he’s progressing well… Next season he’ll keep growing. He’s been very affected because he’s a good friend (of Vinicius). He wanted to show solidarity with his teammate.”
Real Madrid’s Eduardo Camavinga, on the support for Vinicius: “It was nice. What we did before the game is good for everyone, to raise awareness around the world.”
Camavinga, on the win: “We know the most important thing is to finish the season in the best position possible. We can’t finish first but we have to fight for second… We always want to win the Champions League, but it’s a good season. We won three trophies.”
– Karim Benzema is now one goal from tying Cristiano Ronaldo for the most goals against Rayo Vallecano by a Real Madrid player.
– Benzema snaps a streak of four games without a goal with Madrid in all competitions, his longest since going five matches in September-October 2022
Real Madrid: At Sevilla on Saturday.
Rayo Vallecano: Hosting Villarreal on Saturday.