After weeks of being of relentlessly fouled by opponents and racially abused by rival fans in Spain, Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jr enjoyed a warm welcome in Morocco as he steered his team to a 4-1 win over Egypt’s Al Ahly on Wednesday to reach the Club World Cup final.
Vinicius was the star attraction for the Moroccan fans, who created a noisy atmosphere at the sold-out Prince Moulay Abdallah stadium in Rabat.
Real would have been forgiven for thinking they were playing at home, given the raucous backing of the vast majority of the crowd, who turned up the volume and displayed a giant banner in support of the Spanish giants.
It was Vinicius who got them on their feet every time he touched the ball, and the stadium erupted when he gave Real the lead just on halftime.
The Brazilian also won a penalty, made 13 dribble attempts, was named man-of-the-match and was only fouled twice.
It all felt in stark contrast to when Real play away from their Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Spain, with Vinicius regularly targeted by opposing players on the pitch and subjected to hostility and racist abuse from some fans off it.
On Sunday he was fouled 10 times at Mallorca, the most endured by any player in LaLiga this season.
Having suffered 79 fouls so far this campaign, Vinicius is the most fouled player in Europe’s top seven leagues by a big margin, followed by his countryman Neymar at Paris St Germain with 59.
The Mallorca fans were also filmed racially abusing Vinicius during their surprise 1-0 win, the latest incident of racism targeting the Brazilian.
Spanish police are investigating a possible hate crime after a mannequin wearing his No. 20 shirt was hung from a bridge in front of the club’s training ground ahead of the Madrid derby two weeks ago, while in September a panelist on a Spanish soccer show compared his goal celebrations to that of a monkey.
In Morocco, he was substituted in added time and left the field on the opposite side of the pitch to Real Madrid’s bench.
A lengthy walk back to the dugout could have been a problematic experience for him in many stadiums in Spain, yet he revelled in it on Wednesday, flashing a big smile and waving back to supporters.
“Vinicius likes to play football, it doesn’t matter where he plays, he enjoys it and wants to do it as well as possible,” manager Carlo Ancelotti told a news conference on Wednesday, when asked if Vinicius was more comfortable playing outside Spain.
“He played a complete game, was always dangerous and scored a fantastic goal. It’s the Vinicius that we all see most of the time.”
Vinicius’s treatment has shone a spotlight on the issue of racism in Spain.
On Tuesday another Brazilian, basketball player Yago dos Santos, endured racist abuse from fans in a competitive match in Catalonia.
His team, Ratiopharm Ulm, were beaten by Spanish team Joventut Badalona in the 7Days EuroCup, but the game was marred by racial slurs caught on camera directed to Dos Santos.
The broadcast images showed a women calling the 23-year-old a monkey followed by laughter from another woman by her side.
Joventut and the EuroLeague Players Association (ELPA)condemned the racist behaviour and said that they would take action.