First came the potential. Then the incredible. Finally, the undeniable.
Working from the end, the tale is this. Oscar, Chelsea’s 21-year-old, fresh-faced Brazilian midfielder, is a star.
Not might be, not could be, not would be if he ever got a game in Chelsea’s ludicrously congested lineup.
Is, will be and should continue being so no matter who's currently ahead of him in the pecking order.
That’s the takeaway from Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Juventus in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday night at London's Stamford Bridge. Further conclusions abound, as they always do, and Oscar's was hardly the game's only notable performance.
His, though, will be the one we'll remember.
The match and its breakout star had promised plenty before kickoff. The two clubs—the European champions against the bearers of the Scudetto—brought the cachet by the cartload. And by the final whistle, both had left a sense of tantalizing anticipation.
But it was that baby-faced Brazilian who stole the headlines on both teams' big night. And all he really did was cash in on his potential.
The occasion was the start of a new Champions League campaign, the beginning of Chelsea’s unlikely title defense and the return of an Italian giant to Europe's elite. The assignment was two-fold: first, to start, and second, to mark Andrea Pirlo.
Both tasks should have towered over Oscar. The start was his first of any kind for Chelsea after joining the Blues in a £25 million transfer over the summer.
And Pirlo, the velvety smooth Italian midfield operator with the recently Messianic beard, merely engineered Juventus' run to the Italian Scudetto last season and dominated (almost) every Euro 2012 pitch he stepped onto this summer at the age of 33.
No biggie. First, Oscar shadowed Pirlo around the midfield, not so much blanketing the maestro's movements as providing insurance against disaster.
Then the incredible.
With Juventus and Pirlo growing in influence, Oscar scored twice in two minutes, sent Stamford Bridge into a fit of collective ecstasy and earned the unreserved devotion of the home fans. The first goal, in the 31st minute, owed plenty to a deflection, but the second, two minutes later, was all raw, natural skill.
Lurking along the edge of the Juventus box, Oscar greeted a pass with a first-time flick into a space only he could anticipate. Then he raced onto his own pass before turning and bombing a curled shot—right in front of Pirlo, no less—over world-class keeper Gianluigi Buffon.
It was beautiful and brilliant and memorable. It was the stuff of vaguely Bergkamp-ian prescience. It was, in a word, special.
Juventus later fought back, and with Oscar already substituted from the game, Chelsea settled for a draw after leading by two first-half goals. Even so, Oscar's breakthrough night in his first European match—and his first start in Chelsea blue—took more than a little sting out of the Blues' disappointment and hinted at just how deep the talent runs in Roberto Di Matteo's team.
Most of all, it established—as if the London Olympics hadn't already—Oscar as yet another Chelsea star to watch.
As title defenses go, Chelsea's could have started better. But in a group Chelsea and Juventus should dominate, even the famously impatient Roman Abramovich won't be too upset with a draw against Italian royalty.
As European debuts go, Oscar probably could have made a more lasting impression, but it’s hard to imagine how.