Lucas Moura's heroics highlight Tottenham do not need to rush Harry Kane back for Champions League final
Brazilian's efforts should mean he gets the chance to start against Liverpool in Madrid on June 1, regardless of the fitness of the side's captain
Lucas Moura was lost for words. But, then again, so was everybody else.
A second successive night of Uefa Champions League semi-finals proved even more dramatic than the first.
Ajax’s fans chorused Three Little Birds, but three lighting bolts from Moura gave them plenty to worry about. Three-nil down in the tie and with 45 minutes of the second leg to play, Tottenham Hotspur clawed back from the precipice. A first appearance in club football’s showpiece event was theirs.
Moura left the pitch in tears, clutching the match ball. The only Brazilian to notch a hat-trick in the last four of the Champions League, a stage that has borne witness to some of the best. Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Neymar and more. But Moura grabbed his own slice of history.
“I hope he gets a statue in England after this,” Christian Eriksen said, he too struggling to comprehend what had just been. “We are blown away.”
Spurs had blown away Ajax’s talented tyros. In a second-half of purpose and Fernando Llorente-shaped persistence, Moura picked the Dutch side’s pocket.
He led the fight-back and landed the knockout punch. Two goals from the 55th minute, 204 seconds apart. The third when all hope seemed lost.
In a way, it sums up Moura: the chaser of lost causes, diminutive but dogged, an unlikely mix of flair and fortitude, the little lightweight who outruns and out-jumps the giants around him. Without doubt, Moura is a manager's man.
"They are all heroes," offered a clearly affected Mauricio Pochettino afterwards. "But [Lucas Moura] was a superhero."
It felt a superhuman effort. It just so happens he can play a bit, too. His cushioned pass to Dele Alli, then the explosive burst that teed up the first goal. The squirming free in a congested penalty area and the squeezing of his shot inside the Ajax near post for the second. For the winner, when for sure the legs were weary and the outlook bleak, Moura supplied a sharp turn and smart finish to gift Spurs an away-goal victory.
“Heart and Lucas Moura,” Eriksen said. “He's how we won the game.”
Indeed, it was a match-winning display from a player not always prone to providing them. For a while, Moura was potential unfulfilled.
In 2012, and impressed by his work at Sao Paulo, PSG beat Manchester United to his signature, making the attacking midfielder their most expensive recruit, at €45 million (Dh184.7m).
But as the PSG project moved through the gears, Moura became marginalised. A four-time Ligue 1 champion, he made only six substitute appearances in the first six months of last season. So, that January, Spurs picked him up on transfer deadline day.
Initially seen sporadically, Moura has made more of an impact this campaign. In August, he scored twice in the win at Old Trafford. In December, with Spurs staring at Champions League elimination, he rammed home Harry Kane’s late centre at the Nou Camp to seal a point against Barcelona. It carried the club into the knockouts.
Since, there was his first Tottenham hat-trick, against Huddersfield Town, little more than three weeks before his treble in Amsterdam. The last man signed by a fascinatingly frugal transfer committee drove Spurs towards the most lucrative night in their history.
"It's impossible to explain what I'm feeling,” Moura said late on Wednesday, the Ajax victory still washing over him.
Moments earlier, Kane had raced from his seat in the stands to seek out Moura. The injured striker later told television how he hoped to recover fully from his ankle issue in time for the final, against Liverpool, on June 1.
During Kane’s absence, though, as Spurs have creaked in both fitness and form, Son Heung-min and Moura have fought from the front in Europe, one seeing off Manchester City in the quarter-finals, the other stunning Ajax.
Irrespective of Kane’s possible return and his obvious capabilities, Moura and Son must continue in tandem in Madrid. Given their effect on Spurs' past two Champions League away days, both extraordinary, they deserve it.
Updated: May 9, 2019 03:49 PM