PARC DES PRINCES—With every game that passes late this season, more and more is riding on the minutes Lucas Moura plays.
He's never been a star for Brazil despite collecting 31 caps at age 21, but has always been a rotational option and a sure-fire presence on the bench.
Mano Menezes had him firmly within his thoughts as he sought to grow a young team capable of 2014 World Cup domination and used the London 2012 Olympic Games to slowly introduce him to the setup.
Back then, Hulk started and Lucas relieved him on occasion, but the expectation was that, in two years time, the Paris Saint-Germain winger would usurp his counterpart and star opposite Neymar on home soil.
Such expectations, unfortunately, have proved to be wrong.
Hulk continues to control the right-wing berth in Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil side, and behind him lie Willian and Bernard. Lucas, it seems, is around fourth or fifth in the pecking order, and he hasn't made either of the last two Selecao squads.
The alarm bells will be ringing inside his head; he won't have the chance to represent his nation at a home World Cup ever again. That's why his brilliant cameo against Chelsea and his sensational showing against Stade de Reims on Saturday carry such significance for player and club.
He may have been locked out of the starting XI for much of the season by Edinson Cavani, but he's always been one of the most dynamic threats in Ligue 1.
PSG lucked out when Cavani was unfit to play Bayer Leverkusen at the BayArena in February, with Lucas coming in to rip Andres Guardado to shreds. He finished with one assist, four dribbles and managed aerial dominance on the wing.
Against Chelsea he came on and beat four players with one run, laid the ball on a plate for Cavani who tripped over his own feet and saw the danger disappear. When Reims came to town on Saturday, he flat-out destroyed left-back Franck Signorino—so much so, the defender began running away from Lucas when he received the ball to feet.
PSG may travel to Stamford Bridge without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but in losing him their XI, ironically, becomes more balanced and far more fierce on the counterattack.
Lucas will start on the right and give Cesar Azpilicueta the hardest game he'll have this season, and there will be just one things on the Brazilian's mind: perform on the big stage and his place is secure—both in PSG's and Brazil's squad.
The tie at Stamford Bridge is setup perfectly for Lucas to stun Chelsea and impress Scolari watching on. If he can outshine Willian on the same pitch, his World Cup dream may well be back on.