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Moment of the mid-week: Vinicius Jr's rainbow flick vs Kyle Walker defiant defense

With the UEFA Champions League nearing its climax, the first leg of the semifinals provided plenty of quality for the footballing world to admire. Real Madrid and Manchester City shared the spoils at the Bernabeu in a thrilling contest, while Inter Milan lit up the Derby della Madonnina to defeat city rivals AC Milan in the other semifinal.

Both games provided plenty of goals, action and brilliant moments, but ESPN India picks out the one standout moment that defined the UCL’s midweek action.

This time around, we pick Vinicius Jr’s audacious attempt at a rainbow flick against Kyle Walker.

The crowd at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu are a demanding lot – and that’s an understatement. Real Madrid are European royalty, and their supporters have seen the very best footballers, day in, day out. It takes a lot, and I repeat, *a lot* to make every single one of the 81,044 packed into the stands to audibly gasp in amazement. Yet, that’s precisely what Vinicius Jr. did.

It wasn’t his stunning goal in the 36th minute that elicited this response, nor Kevin de Bruyne’s equally marvellous leveller in the 67th minute of the game. It was this rainbow flick in the 85th minute of the game. Consider the occasion for a moment – it’s a Champions League semifinal against arguably the two best teams in the competition, the tie is finely balanced, there are only a few minutes left in search of a season-defining winner.

This is a moment for percentages, for maximising your odds, for doing what Real Madrid specialise in – serious stuff. And Vinicius decides this is the moment to attempt something more suited to beaches of Rio.

Perhaps it was inspired by what happened seconds ago – Eduardo Camavinga had sent a throw in Vinicius’ way, but Kyle Walker was touch tight behind him, poking the ball out for another throw-in. It was a microcosm of the pair’s battle all night – Walker the immovable object to Vinicius’ unstoppable force. Cue the next throw-in.

Camavinga’s searching with the ball in his hands, Karim Benzema and Vinicius are weaving all over attempting to find space, with Rodri and Bernardo Silva joining the press for City. A half-second (maybe less) of space and Camavinga rifles it down to Vinicius near the touchline. Rodri and Silva press again, closing down Vinicius’ passing options. Benzema drifts away, attempting to offer his teammate something, but Walker joins Rodri and Silva in a suffocating triangle around Vinicius.

There is no escape.

And then Vinicius pulls out the rainbow flick. It’s a controversial move in professional football, often associated with showboating – you execute it at your own peril. Franck Songo’o approached said peril in 2008, after opposition players threatened to lynch him after he performed a rainbow flick, leading to the referee stopping the game. For Vinicius however, it is the only option available to him in this City-imposed cul-de-sac.

His left boot steps over the ball, the right following by flicking the ball onto his left heel, which flicks the ball over – arcing like a rainbow. Walker, for a moment, is beaten. This is also perhaps, a defining moment in his career – lose out in this battle and a stellar footballing journey will be memed out of existence. He’s about to be Boateng’ed after a night where he was the best defender on the pitch. The ball is above him as he wrests his sinews to turn a full 180 degrees.

This is the peak of the involuntary gasp of amazement from the crowd – after a season of magnificence (coupled with some troughs), Vinicius is about to top all of that. And just as quickly, the frisson of excitement in the air dissipates as the ball comes down, almost as if the ball chronicled the crowd’s emotions. Walker, strong left arm across Vinicius’ chest, isn’t about to be beaten. He’s ahead of his man, and despite his Brazilian opponent employing the entirety of his strength, there’s no getting past him.

The almost rainbow-flick, then.

It may have petered out into nothingness, but the moment was a crystallisation of two maestros of football’s contrasting arts – attack and defence. Vinicius, for having the sheer audacity to even attempt it – not that he’s foreign to the idea, he’d famously attempted it against Argentina in the most recent Copa America as well. And then Walker, for simply having the ability to snuff out the danger.

The pair recognised it as well – sharing a hug after the final whistle blew, with Vinicius pointing out Walker to Brazilian teammate Ederson as the Englishman approached him, saying ‘This guy is f***ing amazing.’

It was ‘f***ing amazing’ indeed. Their entire battle over 90 minutes, focused into that one moment where 81,044 in the stands and millions watching on their screens experienced a plethora of emotions in a single footballing play.

It amounted to seven seconds of football – use that 10 second button to forward the footage and you’d have missed it out entirely. It wasn’t a goal, it wasn’t a setup to a brilliant passing move, it wasn’t a progressive pass, the stats would dryly chronicle it as a failed take-on.

It was, however, the beautiful game. O jogo bonito.

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