Zinedine Zidane’s Plan B for Real Madrid’s right flank has become a Plan V. Following the injury to Gareth Bale – one third of the much-vaunted “BBC” strike partnership he forms with Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo – the French coach has found Lucas Vazquez to be a more than dependable replacement for him at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016.
Versatile, modest in his approach and a tireless worker, the Galicia-born wide man accepted the challenge offered by Zidane and made the right flank his own right from the start of the semi-final against Club America. The Mexican side were seemingly alert to the threat Vazquez posed, with Miguel Samudio sending him an early message, putting him on the floor with a firm tackle only nine seconds in.
Lucas was determined to find a way past however, and find it he did. It was down the right side that Los Merengues created their best chances, with Cristiano Ronaldo hitting the post in the first half and then failing to head into an open goal in the second, both times from crosses sent in by the No17.
Direct, fast and a proficient dribbler, Vazquez exposed the Águilas defence time and again down his flank, and was all smiles when he reflected on his performance with FIFA.com: “I’m delighted I was able to play and help the team get the win.”
Unable to keep still, the livewire winger added: “Now for the final on Sunday.” When asked if Madrid’s tactic for beating Kashima Antlers would again involve scoring in stoppage time, he said with a laugh: “It looks like we’ve got into the habit of it, doesn’t it? Obviously it’s a sign that this team never gives up. It keeps going till the very last second.”
The 25-year-old, who came up through the youth ranks at Real, is a happy-go-lucky character. His mood has been further brightened by the opportunity to play at Japan 2016, especially as he did not make the trip to Morocco two years ago, when Real Madrid lifted the trophy for the first time. Vazquez was on loan at Espanyol at the time, searching for the playing time and experience that would allow him to break into the first team at his beloved club. One year on from his return, he is cementing his status as one of Zidane’s most tried-and-trusted performers.
His aim now is to play in Sunday’s final at the International Stadium Yokohama and to put the Champions Badge on the Madrid shirt. He is wary of their opponents, however: “We watched Kashima’s semi-final and we know they won’t make it easy for us. We have to perform well if we want to beat them and not make life hard for ourselves.”
Vazquez’s personal goals are also ambitious: “We all want more, obviously, and if it comes in the shape of a goal or an assist, then so much the better.” Shuto Yamamoto, the man who will be entrusted with keeping a close eye on him on Sunday, has been warned.