Not many players can claim to have had a career quite like Yannick Carrasco. The magical winger went from Monte Carlo to Madrid via Liaoning in Northeast China, and now the 27-year-old has travelled to Saint Petersburg to represent Belgium in this pan-European Championship. Against Russia, Carrasco ensured it was a tour worth embarking on.
Imitating the likes of Ronaldo in 2002 and Phil Foden more recently, Carrasco decided to switch up his hair, dying it blonde ahead of the tournament similar to Aaron Ramsey in 2016. Football legend suggests that you flip a coin whenever a star footballer makes a drastic change to their hairstyle, and their form either improves to an iconic level or plummets to become infamous a la Fernando Torres in 2010.
However, regardless of the colour of his hair, the Atletico wide player picked up where he left off in Spain’s capital this season, which helped deliver a title for Diego Simeone’s side. Carrasco was a constant menace in Belgium’s Euro 2020 bow, first flirting with damaging the Russian defence as he tried to get onto a Thorgan Hazard through ball, but Eden’s younger brother unfortunately overhit the pass.
Carrasco was more threatening later in the first half, as he rather impressively weaved his way through several Russian players. The Madrid winger showcased his terrific footwork and close control to jink away from Dmitri Barinov and Mario Fernandes, entering the penalty area while doing so before smashing an effort narrowly over the crossbar.
In the second half, Carrasco used his pace to charge forward at defenders, knocking the ball a distance behind the backline before showing off his incredible speed. His forward running ensured Belgium had a direct aspect to their game – yet what of his final ball? It was inconsistent in Saint Petersburg, but his vision provided plenty of promise for the remainder of the tournament. He curled one particularly excellent ball towards Romelu Lukaku, who hit a double on the night, but it was just overhit.
Ultimately, Carrasco’s direct dribbling and mentality propelled Belgium forwards. His pace and ability to carry the ball instilled fear in each and every Russian he squared up against, particularly Brazilian-born Fernandes. The right-back could not deal with Carrasco’s trickery, and the Atletico winger’s style would have given Fernandes flashbacks to the joga bonito days that took a hold of Brazilian football in the noughties.
Quite frankly, there aren’t many players who can go to China in the midst of their prime and return to La Liga – one of Europe’s elite leagues – as a stronger, more complete player. Carrasco has been hugely influential for El Cholo’s Atleti and his influence has appeared to now spread across the Belgian team – one of the top nations in European football and considered by many as favourites to lift the Henri Delauney Cup at Wembley Stadium on 11 July.
Lukaku may have stolen the plaudits as his brace led Roberto Martinez’s side to a 3-0 win, but make no mistake: Carrasco was the most dangerous player on the pitch, and he was just getting started against Russia.