Borussia Dortmund versus Barcelona didn’t live up to the hype. Neither did Napoli versus Liverpool. It’s over to Salzburg instead, where a 19-year-old man-mountain distinguished himself with a first-half hat-trick that made him a lock for Carolina Herrera hero of the day.
Erling Braut Haaland, remember the name. The Norway prodigy singed the fingers of transfer rumour writers across the globe in the space of 45 minutes, as he became the first teenager since Wayne Rooney to score more than one goal on his Champions League debut in Red Bull Salzburg’s 6-2 obliteration of Genk.
Big things were expected in Austria – and by us – of a player who had already scored a quite incredible 14 goals from eight games this season. It only took him two minutes to justify every word.
Haaland, the son of former Premier League stalwart Alf-Inge, has unfathomable acceleration for someone who measures in at 6ft5in, and used it for his first before powering a low shot past the keeper.
He was given the freedom of Salzburg for his second but it still needed another cool finish, and a tap-in rounded off a dream first-half’s work.
AGE – 19
SHOTS – 3
GOALS – 3
MINUTES – 72
Ruthlessness – Haaland’s frame wouldn’t be out of place in the NBA and he hit the jackpot with his genes thanks to his natural pace, too. But this was a night on which, in his first taste of European competition, his preternatural coolness prevailed.
Belgian champions Genk are no great shakes, of course. That’s besides the point. His composure in front of goal speaks of great mental strength and if Group E opponents Liverpool and Napoli weren’t already on high alert, they are now.
Ultimately, Haaland’s end product will unlikely be enough to fire Salzburg into the knockouts given their clear frailty at the back, but he will surely be in the Champions League next year one way or another.
No matter the age, No9s with such physical and mental traits are extremely rare commodities. Let the bidding wars begin.
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