Vinícius Jr. scored against Atlético Madrid in Real Madrid’s 3-1 Copa del Rey quarterfinal victory on Thursday after an effigy of the star was hanged from a bridge in Madrid prior to the match.
Álvaro Morata gave Atlético a first-half lead, but Rodrygo’s stunning equalizer sent the quarterfinal into extra-time.
Atlético went down to 10 men after Stefan Savić was sent off after picking up two yellow cards, with goals from Karim Benzema and Vinícius sealing Real’s win.
After scoring his goal, Vinícius wheeled away yelling and clenching his fists before dancing, an act that has previously drawn abuse from rival fans.
After the game, the 22-year-old Brazilian international posted a photo of himself on social media with the caption “Vini LOVES MADRID! There’s only one!”
On Friday morning, Vinícius posted a further message saying, “LOVE WILL ALWAYS BEAT HATE.”
Spanish national police have opened an investigation “for a possible hate crime,” the national police’s press office for the Madrid region told CNN on Thursday.
In videos which have been widely viewed on social media, the effigy – which was dressed in a Real Madrid shirt with Vinícius’ name and No. 20 on the back – was shown hanging from a bridge near Real Madrid’s training ground along with a banner which read: “Madrid hates Real.”
Police from the Hortaleza station, nearest the bridge, went to remove it as soon as they became aware of the effigy on Thursday morning at around 8:30 a.m. local time (2:30 a.m. ET), but when they arrived, the banner reading “Madrid hates Real” was no longer hanging there, the press office said.
In a statement released on Twitter, the Spanish league said it “strongly condemns acts of hatred and intimidation against Vinícius Jr.”
“La Liga, as in the past, will press for an investigation into the matter by relevant state security forces and bodies, seeking convictions for those responsible and requesting the most severe sentences.”
Atlético said the effigy was “repugnant and unacceptable” and that it “embarrass[es] society.”
“Our condemnation to whichever act that attacks the dignity of people or institutions is absolute and unequivocal,” the club said in a statement.
“The rivalry between the two clubs is maximum, but the respect is as well. No individual, whatever their intentions or their colors, can mar the coexistence between the two fanbases. It’s everyone’s responsibility to avoid that.
“We do not know who the author or authors of this despicable act are, but their anonymity does not help them avoid responsibility. We hope that the authorities manage to clear up the circumstances and that justice helps to banish these types of behaviors.”
Real Madrid said it “wants to thank the support and signs of care received following the lamentable and repugnant act of racism, xenophobia and hate against our player Vini Jr.”
“We state our most firm condemnation against these acts that attack the fundamental rights and dignity of people and which have nothing to do with the values that represent football and sport,” it said in a statement.
“These attacks which our player is now suffering, or those which any athlete could suffer, cannot have a place in a society like ours.
“Real Madrid trusts that the responsibilities of whoever participated in these despicable acts come to light.”
FIFPRO, the global union for professional football players, tweeted its support of Vinícius on Friday: “#FIFPRO is disgusted by the racism directed at @ViniJr and joins @AFEFutbol in demanding legal action against the perpetrators of this hate crime.
“It is disturbing that players continue to be targeted in this way, and critical that authorities act with the full force of the law.”
Vinícius has previously faced racist abuse from opposition fans.
In Real Madrid’s 2-0 victory over Real Valladolid on December 30 last year, Vinícius said he was subjected to racist abuse from the crowd, with videos on social media showing fans throwing objects at the forward as he left the field when he was substituted.
Reuters reported that Vinícius later accused La Liga of inaction with regards to racial abuse, to which the Spanish league said a “criminal charge for hate crimes has been filed with the Valladolid Magistrates’ Courts, supported by audiovisual evidence gathered in the investigation carried out through images and audio clips published on open sources.”
According to Reuters, La Liga also said it would increase efforts to “eradicate any kind of violence, racism or xenophobia inside and outside stadiums.”
In September 2022, a group of Atlético fans subjected the 22-year-old to racist chanting during the derby in the league.
In a video posted to Twitter by Spanish radio station COPE, a substantial group of Atlético supporters outside of Atleti’s Metropolitano Stadium could be heard chanting: “You are a monkey, Vinícius, you are a monkey.”
Spanish prosecutors last December closed an investigation into the racist chants direct at Vinícius at Atletico’s Metropolitano stadium because prosecutors said it wasn’t possible to identify who was to blame, a prosecution source told CNN.
It came just two days after Vinícius condemned what he described as racist criticism he received for his dancing goal celebrations.
While appearing on Spanish TV in September, Pedro Bravo – a leading agent and president of the Association of Spanish Agents – compared the Brazilian’s dancing celebrations after scoring to the behavior of a monkey, arguing the forward was not respecting his opponents and “should stop playing the monkey.”
Bravo was accused of using racist language by many on social media and later apologized on Twitter.
During the derby, after Vinícius’ teammate Rodrygo had opened the scoring and the two danced in celebration, several Atlético supporters could be seen making gestures towards the Brazilian pair.
Vinícius has discussed the racist abuse he has faced for his dancing celebrations, saying: “They say that happiness bothers. The happiness of a victorious Black Brazilian in Europe bothers much more.
“But my desire to win, my smile and the sparkle in my eyes are much bigger than that. You can’t even imagine it. I was a victim of a xenophobic and racist comment. But none of that started yesterday. Weeks ago they began to criminalize my dances. Dances that are not mine.
“They belong to Ronaldinho, Neymar, [Lucas] Paquetá, [Antoine] Griezmann, João Félix, Matheus Cunha … they belong to Brazilian funk and samba artists, reggaeton singers, and Black Americans.
“Those are dances to celebrate the cultural diversity of the world. Accept it, respect it. I’m not going to stop.”
CNN’s Patrick Sung, Sammy Mngqosini and Alasdair Howorth contributed to this report.