The eyes of Real Madrid supporters – and the club’s scouts – would have been trained on emerging River Plate midfielder Exequiel Palacios in Tuesday’s Club World Cup semi-final against underdogs Al Ain.
But these observers would have come away unimpressed by the new Argentina cap’s instantly forgettable display during a historic penalty shootout win for the ecstatic hosts at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
Here, Sport360 reviews the 20-year-old’s mundane performance:
River Plate were red-hot favourites in the UAE to secure the prize of a showpiece meeting with holders Madrid, but an own goal from centre-back Javier Pinola got them off to the worst-possible start.
Colombian forward Rafael Santos Borre soon flicked in on the line and calmly dispatched a one-on-one to make it 2-1 to the visitors by 16 minutes.
Al Ain, however, would rebound positively from this concession and deserved to level up on 51 minutes when Porto-target Caio, characteristically, cut inside to find the bottom corner and make it 2-2.
Atlanta United-bound Gonzalo Martinez would hit the crossbar with a spot-kick in normal time, prior to substitute Enzo Perez critically erring in the shootout.
Putting it on the line – Head coach Marcelo Gallardo substituted off all four of his centre midfielders in this last-four tie.
For a demure Palacios, his nagging ankle knock clearly limited the effectiveness of the usual box-to-box battler.
Gamely, he made it into the second half. But by 55 minutes, his unsatisfactory race was run.
🎙️ Marcelo Gallardo, luego del partido: "Llegar a la final era el deseo de todos nosotros, el gran tema era cómo enfocarnos después de semejante logro. La derrota siempre te deja enseñanzas, pero el festejo tiene que seguir porque lo que se logró hace una semana es histórico". pic.twitter.com/0UN8WWA1mR— River Plate (@CARPoficial) December 18, 2018
Much to learn – When your physical output is lessened, out of your control, a top-class performer can still influence a game with their mastery of the basics.
This was not the case for River rookie, Palacios. One first-half moment typified his ineffective display.
His reading of the game saw a loose pass in midfield cut out, but by the time he bore down on the retreating defence, concrete boots miscontrolled the ball to safety.
30th min POOR CONTROL: Palacios claims the ball in a promising position, but then proceeds to fumble it forward when trying to run at pace.
55th min SUBSTITUTED: Gallardo has seen enough from the struggling starlet and the board comes up with his number. A consequential decision, with replacement Perez set to play a decisive role in the shootout.
Palacios is considered to be the latest jewel mined from River’s incredible academy.
But on this performance, he still requires plenty of shining. Talk of a January switch to Madrid might have come too soon, something he appeared to acknowledge in a pre-match interview.
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