‘He has outdone me’: Mikel Merino upstages dad with Stuttgart goal 33 years later

“This was the only thing I had left,” Ángel Miguel Merino joked, and now even that had been taken from him, but it was worth it: in return, he was given the gift of a lifetime, a gesture of gratitude for, well, for everything. No wonder there were tears in his eyes.

There were 65 seconds of extra time remaining when his son Mikel jumped, twisted his neck and headed Spain into the semi-final of Euro 2024. At first there was, Merino Jr said, an “incredible silence”, a moment’s uncertainty when “I wasn’t aware what was happening”, and then he saw his teammates sprinting off the bench and it came to him just what he had done; what he had to do too. They embraced him and then, when they let go, he set off on a run around the corner flag.

Just like his father had done, right there.

Mikel Merino was born in June 1996 on the day that Spain lost to England at Euro 96, wearing the same shirts the squad use off the pitch now. His mum was a professional basketball player. His dad played more than 200 times for Osasuna, where his own career began, before taking Mikel to Germany and England and back to Spain. His dad’s best moment had been here, in Germany; now his son could say the same.

“This stadium has something,” Mikel said afterwards. “I’ll remember this for ever. And on top of it all, it happened here. A cycle closes which makes me happy. I played my first Spain game in this stadium and my dad scored here.”

In 1991 in this same stadium – although it was called the Neckarstadion then, the Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion next, the Mercedes-Benz Arena after that and the MHPArena now – Miguel had scored for Osasuna against Stuttgart, celebrating by circling the corner flag; 33 years later, Mikel had scored here against Germany. And so there he was, doing laps. Watch the clips: the same face, the same circle, even the same commentator.

“We had talked about this,” Merino Sr, who as well as playing for Osasuna played at Leganés, Celta, Las Palmas, Burgos and Ceuta, told Cope radio. “We had been saying before the game: ‘imagine if you come on and score.’ He’s determined to make me look bad. He has outdone me in everything. He has done much more than I ever did. But I had scored in Stuttgart and he hadn’t. That was all I had left and he has gone and left me behind again.

“It’s a special moment and you get emotional: this is much more important than it was when I scored here. I loved this moment almost more than my own. I saw him after and we were laughing about it. ‘Another goal in Stuttgart, eh?’,” he said. And then he said a very dad thing to say. “I’m very proud of his behaviour, when he comes on, however long he comes on for. It’s not easy with all these players, all starters at their clubs. And in the end he got his reward.”

Merino heads home the winner late in extra time against Germany. Photograph: Jürgen Fromme/firo sportphoto/Getty Images

There is a lot in that, and now more than ever. Coming into the Euros, Merino and Fabián Ruiz had shared the previous 15 games almost exactly and many expected the Real Sociedad midfielder to start. Instead, Ruiz has been one of the stars of the competition. Against Germany, Merino came on with 10 minutes of normal time remaining; by the end of extra time, he had taken his tournament total to 163 minutes. “When you’re not playing much it is important not to ‘go around with a face on’,” he said afterwards.

Spain have had a defined starting XI, but the second string, if you can call them that, have been significant. There are good reasons why Luis de la Fuente made 10 changes for their third group game, why only the third-choice goalkeeper, Álex Remiro, has not had a minute. To give starters a rest – against Albania Jesús Navas played on despite an early whack on the ankle, later saying he kept going because he knew Dani Carvajal needed a break – and for the rest a reward, or experience. For them to feel part of it, be ready when needed.

Mikel Merino profile

In the semi-final, they will have to be. It seemed that Álvaro Morata had been booked – that at least is what Uefa said, which would have meant the captain missing out against France – but when he was told as much post-game, it was the first he had heard. “Impossible, impossible,” he said, abandoning the press area to find out what had happened. It turned out he was right, but Spain’s absences remain significant.

Sent flying by Toni Kroos, Pedri was taken off after eight minutes and will not play again, a ligament injury in his left knee likely to keep him out for around six weeks. Carvajal was sent off for desperately hauling down Jamal Musiala in the last minute. And the centre-back Robin Le Normand collected a yellow card that means he is suspended. Nacho Fernández and Navas are the likely replacements at the back, although De la Fuente could use Nacho at full-back and bring Dani Vivian into central defence.

In Stuttgart they stepped up when it mattered. “My only merit is that I know this group, and I know they will never let you down,” De la Fuente said. Dani Olmo scored the first and provided the second. Merino got the goal that took them through. “I scored but this belonged to all of us,” he said. It belonged to his dad too.

The Guardian