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‘I really enjoyed it’

Sanches mesmerises Lisbon and Bayern

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It was the moment of the match in the 2-0 win at Benfica. Joshua Kimmich was able to keep the ball in play under pressure by his own corner flag before passing to Arjen Robben. The Dutchman backheeled the ball into the middle. Then came the great move by Renato Sanches who carried the ball the length of the pitch at full pace using his solid body to shake off two tenacious pursuers. After the 21-year-old passed the ball to Franck Ribéry on the edge of the box, he immediately indicated he wanted it back in the middle. And straightaway James Rodriguez, who ran behind Ribéry at the right moment, provided a pinpoint pass to the foot of Sanchez for a tap-in. It was significant that the Portuguese finished off a wonderful attack as the midfielder grew up in Lisbon and spent his whole career at Benfica before signing for FC Bayern two years ago.

Great gesture from Benfica fans

Accordingly, Sanches did not celebrate scoring but just held up his hands in gratitude over his head. A gesture that paid respect to the crowd. Although it was the opposition that scored, the home fans applauded – they applauded the lad who had learned to play football at their club. "I'd like to thank the Benfica fans. It was a special moment for me. I really enjoyed this game and this goal," said an ecstatic Sanches after the game.

"It was very important for me to play in this game against Benfica. I grew up as a player at this club," said the man of the match. It was the first start for Sanches this season and his selection was something of a surprise for many people. However, Niko Kovac trusted his instincts after Thiago was sidelined through injury. "Actually, Thiago should have played – but when he was sidelined I had a feeling in my stomach that it was the right moment to bring in Sanches," declared the 46-year-old coach as he revealed what he said to his player ahead of the game.

Praise from all sides

"I told him, just play, play in your style, you’re at home here." And that's exactly what the European Champion of 2016 did. "His performance today was unique," summed up his coach. Apart from his goal, Sanches produced an impressive performance to completely justify his selection. The number 35 was also involved in the opening goal with a pass to Ribéry on the wing and with 95 per cent of his passes in the opposition half successfully completed, he had the best return of all the players who started.

Justifiably, there was praise from both his team-mates and the club management. "He took his chance, played brilliantly and proved he is a very big talent," said chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Hasan Salihamidzic added: "He had a really good game and put in a shift. I hope that's the start of something. If he plays like that then you can't drop him from the team."

The sporting director expressed the hope of many people in Munich. The performance in his hometown could provide a release for Sanches who has found it difficult over the past two seasons. Now he has scored his first goal for the record champions and nobody could take away the smile on his face after his 'home game'. Perhaps he will soon be able to mesmerise the Allianz Arena and the Bundesliga as well.

 

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