Weathered Lloris stands on brink of rare Champions League-World Cup double

The Spurs captain has been through the gamut of emotions at international level over the past few years and is looking to relive the highs on Saturday

It’s coming up on three years since Hugo Lloris stood with his hands on his hips, shell-shocked on the Saint-Denis pitch.

An Eder drive in extra-time had evaded him a few minutes before and as the ball slipped past so did France’s chances of winning the European Championship on home soil.

Portugal would be crowned champions and the French players – led by their goalkeeper – plunged to the depths of despair. But football always has a way of throwing up the unexpected.

Or, as Lloris puts it: “You never know what will be the next opportunity in front of you.

“It was the case after the final of the Euro when we lost, we were so bad because we lost at home in France and, at that moment, we could not expect that two years later we would win the World Cup.”

The lesson of expecting the unexpected is one he’s channelled into his club career, with Tottenham preparing to face Liverpool in the Champions League final, a position few would have foreseen at the beginning of the season.

In many ways it’s illogical that Spurs are here at all. After three matches in the group stage they looked dead and buried – with only one point on the board. But they somehow squeaked through behind Barcelona, themselves knocked out by Liverpool at the semi-final stage.

Against Manchester City in the quarter-finals they were thankful for a Lloris penalty save from Sergio Aguero to preserve a clean sheet in the first leg.

The second leg yielded two crucial away goals from Son Heung-min – which gave Spurs an extra life of sorts – and one of the most thrilling finales to any Champions League game ever seen.

After Raheem Sterling’s injury-time goal, Spurs were – for all intents and purposes – out. But a reprieve in the form of a VAR review saw it annulled for offside.

For much of each leg of the semi-finals against Ajax, meanwhile, Spurs were second best.

But try as they might, Ajax could not quite quell the spirit and belief within the Tottenham squad. When Lucas Moura completed his hat-trick, he brought the Johan Cruyff ArenA to its knees.

Much like the Euro 2016 heartbreak was the precursor for World Cup glory, Lloris sees last season’s round of 16 defeat to Juventus as the first, painful step on the road to this final.

“We were so close but at the same time so far,” he says of that quickfire defeat at Wembley.

“We had to learn and deal with this experience and this season is completely the opposite because last season we had great group-stage performances. This season we struggled a little bit in the beginning.

“After three games we were nearly out of the competition. We stayed positive, we kept the belief. And we made it.”

To analyse their Champions League season is to realise that they did not master many matches, but they mastered moments. When required, Spurs had a resilient collective identity that was matched by an individual cold-bloodedness at either end when it counted.

“One thing you cannot buy is experience,” says Lloris.

“You need to go through different situations, different games, to learn as a team. And then we can see step by step we improved the level.”

And it wasn’t as if they could spread around the workload. Mauricio Pochettino had a tight squad but one that he knew well, considering the last player signed by Tottenham was Lucas in January of 2018.

There has barely been a senior player unaffected by either injury or suspension throughout the campaign, with Lloris missing games in the group stages due to both.

They’ve had to cope at various times without the likes of Harry Kane, Harry Winks, Son Heung-min, Jan Vertonghen, Serge Aurier, Moussa Sissoko, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and more.

But with a three-week gap between the second leg in Amsterdam and the final, Spurs have finally been able to train, full-blooded, with a fully-fit squad.

Pochettino will not be making his decisions on personnel for the final out of necessity as the case has been before, but out of preference.

The coach, whose future has been subject to plenty of speculation in the run-up to the final, enjoys a strong bond with his goalkeeper.

Lloris even gifted Pochettino his replica World Cup trophy when he came back from Russia last summer, although he maintains it’s only a loan.

“I didn’t give it to him, it’s just in his office,” he says. “I’m really grateful. I think in life or in your career there is always some amazing meeting in terms of a person, and it’s been the case with Mauricio.

“And you know we are all ambitious and we are all working every day in the club to make history.

“It’s even better when the relationship is strong and that is the case with my team-mates and with the manager. We want to do it together.”

And should Spurs’ logic-defying journey towards a first-ever European Cup final reach a satisfactory end then Lloris can claim to have seen and done it all by completing a rare World Cup/Champions League double.

“It’s a massive opportunity for the club to put a stamp in Champions League history,” he says. “And then with my teammates, with the coaching staff, with the gaffer, it’s to write the history of the club.

“This is what you are looking for as a player, when you sign for a club; to help the club to improve, to develop, and mainly to write one page of the history of the club.”

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After such a hard road, Lloris is one of only a few Spurs players to have tasted both victory and defeat at the sharpest end of football.

“The difference is massive between being runner-up and being winner,” he says. “To win you are over the moon and to lose is very, very painful.

“But there is always something to learn in both cases. Of course we just want to know the right final in winning the game.

“Both emotions are deep. There is one positive and one negative. I just want to know the best one with the club.”

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