THEY have hailed Tottenham Hotspur making it to the first Champions League final as “The Mour-acle of Amsterdam” singularly paying tribute to Brazilian striker Lucas Moura, who scored an extraordinary hat-trick for a 3-2 away win against Ajax Amsterdam.
Mour-acle. Miracle. Magic. Whatever.
The miraculous factor was unbelievable because Spurs lost the first-leg match 1-0 last week and in Wednesday’s return match, by half-time, they were down 2-0 with a close-to-impossible chance to qualify to get over a three-goal aggregate against the Holland champion.
But Moura struck two times in four minutes in the second half to level the score (Spurs were still down 2-3 on aggregate) but what held my breath, as a long-serving Spurs fan, was the five minutes of injury-time, added to the 90 minutes.
And exactly on the fifth minute, in the dying seconds of the match with Spurs facing an imminent knockout, Moura struck with his hat-trick to tie the match at 3-3 and the London-based club qualified for the June 1 final on away-goals aggregate.
No wonder, millions of Spurs fans are singing praises of “The Moura-cle of Amsterdam” for almost single-handedly firing Spurs into the first Champions League final. And there are even calls for a statue of him to be unveiled at White Hart Lane (home ground of Spurs).
And, ironically, just last year, he was a nobody, rejected by French champion club Paris Saint-Germain after the world-record signing of Neymar. Yes, yet scarcely 18 months ago, he was at a particularly low ebb after finding himself frozen out in Paris despite five trophy-laden years at the club.
Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino offered the Brazilian an escape route in a £23 million deal from Paris Saint-Germain in January 2018 and upon his arrival in North London, Moura said: “I think the team is very, very strong. We can win a lot of things and why not the Champions League?”
HEROES IN TEARS
His second-half hat-trick left Pochettino in tears: “They are all heroes but Lucas was a super-hero. Unbelievable hat-trick. He deserves it, he is a great guy.”
Former FIFA coaching instructor Jita Singh, who coached Singapore to Malaysia Cup victory in 1980, describes Moura as the “gifted and unpredictable world-class striker, particularly in the crucial final one-third of play”. He says: “He’s quick and mobile winger, who is also powerful, creative, and technically gifted.
“I’m impressed for his explosive acceleration, agility, and pace on the ball, as well as his smart dribbling skills, especially in using his trickery and feints, typical Brazilian-style, which makes him a dangerous offensive threat. I relish his versatility as he’s capable of playing in several positions, and has also been deployed even from midfield, behind the strikers.”
For Moura, he describes the Amsterdam experience as the “best moment in my life”. He says: “Football gives us moments like this that we cannot imagine. We need to enjoy it. Look at me – it’s the best moment in my life, my career. It’s impossible to explain what I am feeling. I am very, very happy and proud of my teammates.
“We always believed in this moment, that it was possible. We gave everything and deserved this moment. We are a family. It’s impossible to explain – impossible.”
He now gets on the elite record books as just the fifth player to score a hat-trick in a Champions League semi-final, after Alessandro Del Piero, Ivica Olic, Robert Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Looking back at his roller-coaster career, Mauro added: “It’s not a response. Criticism is part of football. I knew I could play for a big club that I was capable of playing in the semi-finals of the Champions League.”
What a worthy Champions League final it will be on June 1. Two excellent, courageous sides led by two charismatic, remarkable managers. Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp are kindred spirits in the way they connect with their players, with the fans and the energy and soul they bring.
For me, as a die-hard Spurs fan for over four decades, I will never forget the unforgettable moments after the final whistle. Pochettino was like a man possessed, dashing to the Johan Cruyff ArenA pitch and he almost lost his watch as he collapsed on his knees at the end of probably the greatest semi-final story in European Cup history.
He said: “Without football you cannot live. I am so emotional. Thank you fans and people who believed for this amazing moment. It is difficult to describe with words. We were talking before in the meeting that when you work and when you feel the love it’s not a stress, it’s a passion and the performance we showed was the passion to love this sport that is football.”
“It was tough for us emotionally and for Ajax it was difficult, too. To compete at this level it is a magical competition this can happen. Of course I am so grateful to be a coach and be in football living this type of moment.
HERO OF THE HOUR
For the hero of the hour, Moura, also stuck to Pochettino’s – and Tottenham’s – theme of belief afterwards. “Always believe in this moment,” he repeatedly said. “We gave everything on the pitch and deserved this moment – we are family. Everyone worked really hard.
“It’s difficult to play here against Ajax but I always believed in my team-mates. Football is amazing – it gives us a moment like this. We cannot imagine. It’s the best moment in my career.”
For Pochettino, whose side’s conviction is best reflected in the fact that they have become the first in history to reach the final having had just one point after three group games, Moura was a “superhero”.
Moura is truly the Spurs saviour and, for the moment, any construction of a statue for the Brazilian will have to wait a while; Tottenham have other grand designs in mind. – By SURESH NAIR
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who genuinely salutes the Lucas Moura-factor and he’s thrilled at the all-England Champions League final in Madrid on June 1: Spurs versus Liverpool