Although the UEFA Champions League is in its 20th season, Valencia CF goalkeeper Diego Alves was only introduced to the competition a fortnight ago.
But the Brazilian, a summer arrival from relegated UD Almería, gave a display of such remarkable split-second reactions and physical bravery against Chelsea FC on Wednesday, earning his team a valuable 1-1 Group E draw, that he seemed as steeped in the tournament as many of his vastly experienced opponents. There have been precious few displays as inspiring as this one.
What is also immensely rare was that between the 51st and 56th minutes there were six genuinely first-class scoring chances, at least four of which appeared certain to hit the net. And right at the death, with Nicolas Anelka looking sure to add a sucker-punch winner, up popped the unbeatable Alves to crown his performance.
After his epic showing Alves, who won the Player Rater Top Player award by a distance, told UEFA.com: "We had five extremely stressful minutes of constant Chelsea chances. But we fought to stay in the game, got away with it and this vital point might, eventually, qualify us for the knockout stage.
I know that if I pull off saves my team-mates get confidence and it inspires them. But if the rest of the guys hadn't worked so hard then my saves wouldn't have earned us a result."
The A to Z of Alves miracles began when Fernando Torres crashed a header to the keeper's left, just as he had shuffled a centimetre or two in the other direction. Somehow he got down and palmed it away. From then until a vicious Frank Lampard volley made it 1-0 five minutes later Alves was perpetual motion.
The former Clube Atlético Mineiro player won a one-on-one as Ramires rampaged through on goal, before saving the blushes of team-mate Víctor Ruiz an instant afterwards as the defender's wild slash deflected the ball goalwards. Torres simply could not credit it as his clinical control, swivel and volley from close range was also blocked – only Lampard's sweet 56th-minute finish from Florent Malouda's cross ended the carnival of goalkeeping excellence.
Lampard, who unusually has not been a regular starter in recent weeks, told UEFA.com: "That finish is the product of hours of practice throughout my career.
I've always worked hard on the training round to be ready when the moment comes in a big game. The ball took ages coming to me, which is harder, but I tried to keep it down and it was a sweet feeling seeing that hit the net. For a few reasons the season hasn't quite got going for me yet, so a big goal in a close match will hopefully signal the start of a big year for me"
Meanwhile Chelsea No1 Petr Čech admired his opposite number, saying: "
The most decisive moments of the game came from Diego." But even after Roberto Soldado's equalising penalty with three minutes left, plus a wonderful stop of his own from a Jonas shot, the Czech international was clear: "We controlled parts of the game, we created lots of chances and this was a positive display Chelsea can build on."
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