Anatomy of a goal: Lucas Moura sends Tottenham to the Champions League final

  • Lucas Moura hat-trick sent Tottenham to 2019 Champions League final at expense of Ajax
  • Last of three goals came on 95:01 at end of second leg
  • Spurs triumphed when seemingly beaten
Blink and you miss it
Blink and you miss it / Etsuo Hara/Getty Images, Briony Painter/90min

For much of the 21st century, simply touching the Champions League was viewed as success for Tottenham Hotspur.

To reach a final was unthought of. It wasn't even worth thinking about. Stay in your own lane and just focus on breaking into the top four, alright?

It made the manner of Spurs' 2019 remarkable breakthrough sweeter. "It was impossible, so we did it," Moussa Sissoko said post-match. "We had heart, and Lucas Moura," commented Christian Eriksen.

Christian Eriksen, Lucas Moura
Eriksen hailed Lucas post-match / Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/GettyImages

Lucas Moura's signing from Paris Saint-Germain was seen as an 'opportunity' by Tottenham, according to former manager Mauricio Pochettino. "We are a club where we sign opportunities...we are in different positions and different realities," the Argentine claimed in January 2018 upon his arrival.

The notion was that Spurs could not compete with the rest of the Premier League's 'big six' in the transfer market - he pointed to Manchester United's acquisition of Alexis Sanchez and Manchester City's of Aymeric Laporte that same month in the same interview - and Lucas was the prize that just so happened to fall into their lap.

The Brazilian's stock had fallen a fair bit after he left hometown club Sao Paulo for PSG in 2013 for a rather seismic £38m. He arrived in France as a wonderkid, but left it as a 'what if', remembered mainly for highlights that rarely stretched beyond a few seconds and being a good friend of Neymar.

Tottenham didn't have anyone like Lucas in their squad upon his arrival, sorely lacking a traditional winger capable of stepping up when their trademark DESK - Dele Alli, Eriksen, Son Heung-min and Harry Kane - weren't all available.

The opportunity's opportunity came in the 2018/19 season, his first full campaign in north London, the beneficiary of an injury crisis which touched nearly every player. He'd go on to hit double digits of goals in the Premier League, including an emphatic brace in a 3-0 win at Manchester United - which broke Jose Mourinho's brain with demands for 'respect' - and the first-ever hat-trick at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Lucas' impressive year became unforgettable in Amsterdam.

UEFA Champions League"Ajax v Tottenham Hotspur FC"
Lucas hauled Tottenham into the final / VI-Images/GettyImages

2-0 down on the night and 3-0 down on aggregate, Tottenham were on the verge of exiting the Champions League at the semi-final stage after three halves of football against Ajax.

Despite the Premier League's riches bleeding down to Spurs, no one would have begrudged them for falling to this iteration of Ajax, who had already conquered Real Madrid and Juventus. They were enterprising and energetic, brave and bold. Tottenham, for all of the spirit they had shown to battle to this point of the competition, were dead on their feet.

Until they weren't. It was impossible until they did it.

Shortly after the interval, Ajax pushed several men forward for a free-kick, but the delivery was poor and Spurs broke away. Danny Rose shifted the ball between the legs of Matthijs de Ligt and handed possession over to Dele to carry. He got to the edge of the box before Lucas swept the ball off his toes and rolled it past goalkeeper Andre Onana.

Tottenham had liftoff, and they soon had another goal. Kieran Trippier's low cross was met by Fernando Llorente, whose shot from inside the six-yard box was somehow clawed away by Onana. But the Cameroonian got into a tangle with teammate Lasse Schone, and Lucas wriggled away with the loose ball between four Ajax bodies before firing home - without so much as even looking towards goal as he let fly.

Pochettino's side had 31 minutes of regulation time plus five minutes for stoppages to find a winner. It wouldn't be until beyond that time that the ball found the back of the Ajax net for a third time.

Andre Onana
Onana was booked for time-wasting / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

The danger had seemingly passed for Ajax. With under a minute of added time left to play, Tottenham skied their final corner.

94:20. Onana picked up a yellow card for time-wasting. He didn't even take the subsequent goal kick until 94:38. The sting was gone.

Ajax only needed to keep the ball away for 22 more seconds. To his credit, Onana leathered the ball deep into the Tottenham half, but the hosts' lack of aerial prowess - which allowed Llorente and Sissoko to bully their way about the pitch in the second half - meant they couldn't keep it up there.

94:42. Eriksen wrestled off Dusan Tadic fighting for the first ball. Sissoko just about put off Daley Sinkgraven for the second, allowing Toby Alderweireld to clear upfield.

94:48. Llorente and De Ligt fought for the loose ball, and for once, the young Dutchman prevailed. Or at least he thought he did. The veteran Spaniard had done enough to make the header awkward for De Ligt. The clearance was flat and simple to retrieve.

94:51. Spurs didn't quite have the ball under control and weren't even in the Ajax half, but their hosts were still panicking. There was still time for one last hoof. Ben Davies nipped in ahead of Hakim Ziyech and Son claimed possession in the centre circle, turning back to Sissoko to punt it again. His shank looked sliced and short. The ball was going in the right direction but still not in the vicinity of Onana's box.

94:57. The ball landed 30 yards from goal, where Llorente was tussling with De Ligt again. This time, they were both fighting for their lives. There wasn't long enough left to play tricks. Llorente's quick glance upwards spotted the defender coming up the rear again, but in support of him was Dele. A slight raise of Llorente's left boot directed the ball over to Spurs' number 20.

94:59. There wasn't time to think. Dele had one literal second to dare and to do. A slip from Lisandro Magallan gave him a decisive extra split-second to plant himself correctly, knowing Lucas was making an out-to-in run, the same play run for his first goal of the night.

Beyond the fallen legs of Magallan it went. De Ligt, on the desperate retreat and in desperate search of immediate redemption, seemed to be first to it, with Nicolas Tagliafico to his left to narrow the angle if anything went wrong.

95:00. The first toe on the ball was that of Lucas. Left foot, a wild swing, and a second that seemed to last forever.


Lucas Moura
Blink and you'll miss it / Craig Mercer/MB Media/GettyImages


Lucas' ninth first-time low-drive goal that season, his trademark, to him simply a normal shot and, out of context, a normal goal. But the degree of difficulty to come in at such rapid velocity and keep the ball down, let alone accurate with no drag, on his weak foot and in the last second of the biggest game of his life.

And that was the confounding thing about Lucas. No one believed in him more than himself. He made the impossible seem easy and the easy seem impossible, the walking embodiment of Sissoko's post-match sentiment.

Ajax two, Tottenham Hotspur three.

Spurs' last opportunity. How fitting for the opportunity to score.