By Tales Azzoni, Associated Press
MADRID (AP) — Rodrygo is coming out on top in the duel of Brazilian teenagers at Real Madrid.
With plenty of goals and good performances, the 18-year-old forward is suddenly stealing the spotlight from Vinícius Júnior, the Brazilian youngster who most thought would be the team's next star.
But while Vinícius Júnior still hasn't been able to establish himself as an indisputable member of Madrid's attack, Rodrygo wasted no time showing he has what it takes to be considered a starter for the Spanish powerhouse despite his young age and lack of experience.
"Rodrygo has great quality, that's why he is here," Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said after the teenager scored a hat trick in the team's 6-0 rout of Galatasaray in the Champions League on Wednesday. "We are not surprised by what he has been doing. We are glad that he has been taking advantage of his chances, but we need to have patience and not put too much pressure on him."
Rodrygo was making his home debut in the Champions League against Galatasaray. His first two scores on Wednesday came by the seventh minute, the quickest anyone has scored two goals in tournament history. With his stoppage-time goal at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, he became the second-youngest Madrid player to score a hat trick in the European competition, after Raúl Gonzalez.
"Every day I've been able to do things faster than I had expected," Rodrygo said. "I'm happy that things are going well for me. It was a dream to hear the fans chant my name at the Bernabéu."
Madrid paid about 45 million euros ($49.8 million) for each Brazilian youngster, with Vinícius Júnior joining from Flamengo at the beginning of the 2018-19 season and Rodrygo from Santos for the start of this season.
The expectations were far greater with Vinícius Júnior, who was touted by many as a possible substitute for Cristiano Ronaldo after the Portugal forward left to play for Juventus.
But the 19-year-old Vinícius Júnior, who didn't even make it to the squad for the game against Galatasaray, struggled in his early days with Madrid, showing good skills but being criticized for his poor finishing. He only has one goal in 10 games this season.
It was the opposite for Rodrygo, who already has five goals in six matches with Madrid. Rodrygo doesn't show his age in front of the goal, keeping the calm that his Brazilian teammate still lacks despite having more experience.
"If there is something to highlight about Rodrygo, it's his intelligence," Zidane said. "He is a quick learner and always wants to improve. He is smart. He is very good technically, although he still has to improve a bit physically."
Rodrygo has already drawn some comparisons to Emilio Butragueño, the striker who thrived with Madrid and Spain's national team in the 1980s and 1990s.
"We all know that Rodrygo is a player for the future," Zidane said. "Hopefully he can continue doing well and can have a career like Butragueño had at Real Madrid."