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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Who is Nico Paz? From Real Madrid’s youth academy to Champions League goalscorer

The 19-year-old Real Madrid youth product opened his scoring account for Los Blancos with a late strike against Napoli on Wednesday.

Update:
The 19-year-old Real Madrid youth product opened his scoring account for Los Blancos with a late strike against Napoli on Wednesday.
OSCAR DEL POZOAFP

Remember the name: Nico Paz. That’s what we told you about a year ago when Lionel Scaloni, the Argentina coach, announced his preliminary list of 44 for the last two official games before the 2022 World Cup Qatar. Scaloni was happy to open the door to fresh talent like Paz - alongside the established stars like Messi, Dybala and Di María. Fast forward to Wednesday night, and the youngster could be seen scoring his first goal for Real Madrid, as Los Blancos claimed a 4-2 Champions League win over Napoli.

The 19-year-old, who had been handed his Madrid debut against Braga earlier this month, opened his account with a crucial strike, firing home from 25 yards to give the hosts a 3-2 lead with just six minutes left at the Bernabéu. Minutes later, Joselu Mato made sure of the three points for Carlo Ancelotti’s men, who have now secured top spot in Champions League Group C.

Real Madrid’s latest gem: Nico Paz

Nico joined Real Madrid’s youth academy in 2017 from Tenerife, his boyhood club. While he has Argentinean blood, he was born in Spain and has duel nationality. He started out trying to emulate his father, playing as a centre-back, but he soon discovered that his qualities were more suited to playing further up the pitch. He switched position to centre-forward, until his coaches discovered that where he really shines is out wide on the wing, where he is able to beat rivals and deliver crosses. It was out on the wing where he really excelled.

He is usually seen hugging the touchline on both flanks but is versatile enough to play in other positions too. He is comfortable using both feet. Under the tutelage of Fran Beltrán, Nico occupies the wing in a 4-2-3-1 set-up. Last season he was combining playing in three different categories - for the Under-18s, Under-19s and Castilla. He has been developing slowly and in his own time - even if Scaloni decided it was time for him to take the next step early on.

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Nico Paz and his Castilla debut

Nico was already showing he was something a bit special when he in the lower categories at La Fábrica. He made his debut with Raúl’s Castilla side in a pre-season friendly against Cultural Leonesa, then made his first appearance in an official game on 8 January 2022 in the 3-1 win over Andorra. Nico was brought on in the 82nd minute to replace Morante. His family, who are mostly based in Tenerife, flew over especially to watch the game from the stands at the Di Stéfano. Since then, Nico has continued to progress in his development.

Apart from possessing tremendous quality and close control, Nico is a very creative player which means he is able to get to the opponents’ area with relative ease. He also has a keen eye for goal - just a couple of days after making his debut with Castilla, he scored his first goal for the Under-19s in the 2-0 win over Getafe - just two and a half minutes after kick-off. That caught the eye of others. One of the 2004 generation, physically he is now filling out and becoming stronger. He is 1.76 metres tall and recently turned 19.

Madrid are well aware of his potential - they offered him a professional contract recently and have high expectations of him in the medium term. Some compare him to Marco Asensio.

Pablo Paz, Nico’s father

Nico’s father Pablo was a central defender who played 82 games in the Spanish top flight. Pablo Paz Tenerife in 1997 from Banfield. He would later spend time at Valladolid, Lugo and Motril before deciding to hang up his boots after a spell with Cerro de Reyes in 2009. He was capped 25 times by Argentina. Daniel Passarella handed him his first opportunity at full international level and he was part of the Argentina side that picked up the silver medal at the Atlanta Games in 1996.

They lost the final against Nigeria, who pulled off a surprise win against the favourites, Brazil. That Argentina side featured players like Simeone, Zanetti, Crespo and Marcelo Gallardo. Pablo Paz made his senior debut aged 23. His son, Nico could follow in his footsteps and gain his first cap at 17. But for now, he is in the preliminary list.

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