WORDS WITH: OSCAR
It was Saturday 22 March, 1997, on a chilly afternoon in the north-east, when Chelsea supporters were exposed to the benefits of acquiring new talent from the footballing hot-bed of Brazil.
After evading both Dennis Wise and Roberto Di Matteo in one quick movement, the Middlesbrough Number 10 slipped the ball into the path of Mikkel Beck, before meeting the resulting cross with a stunning diving header which gave Frode Grodas no chance, condemning us to a 1-0 defeat.
The man in question on that day at the Riverside Stadium was Juninho, a player Bryan Robson, Middlesbrough's manager at the time, had signed from Sao Paulo after usurping a host of Europe's top clubs, and while Blues fans would have to wait 15 years for our very own technically-gifted Brazilian from the same city with a penchant for spectacular goals, the arrival of Oscar has been worth the wait.
Signed from Internacional last summer, the 21-year-old attacker has been one of our most consistent performers over the course of the first half of the season, playing regularly alongside Juan Mata and Eden Hazard tucked in behind the striker.
Here in Japan, as the majority of our first team squad prepare to make their bow in the FIFA Club World Cup, Oscar, somewhat surprisingly given his age, is getting ready to appear in the competition for the second time, having represented his former club back in 2010.
'I've been to Japan before with the Brazil Under-20s national team, it's a very nice place and I'm looking forward to participating in the Club World Cup again,' he tells the official Chelsea website.
'I'm very happy to have the opportunity to take part in the competition for the second time, it's a very important tournament in Brazil, and across the world, so I'm looking forward to it.
'Last time out I was 19-years-old, but we didn't manage to win it, so I just hope that this time I can have a great competition and win it with Chelsea.'
Competing in the tournament two years ago was an important chapter in Oscar's development, but while the experience as a whole is something he will always treasure, his first game in the competition will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Internacional, like Chelsea, joined the competition at the semi-final stage, where they were drawn to play Congolese side TP Mezembe, and they, along with the majority of the watching world, were stunned when the minnows emerged with a well-earned victory.
'It was one of those things that happen in football,' he explains. 'We were all surprised because we knew our team was superior to theirs.
'We tried everything we could to score a goal but it was one of those days where the ball just wouldn't go in the net.
'Mezembe scored to go 1-0 up, and while we did everything in our power to try and secure a draw, it wasn't possible. It was unbelievable at the time, and what made it worse was the fact that we knew we had the quality to win that game and then beat Inter as our team was very strong. It really was a major disappointment.'
The shock defeat meant that Internacional, rather than facing Internazionale - who were managed at the time by Rafael Benitez - in the final as they'd hoped, would have to take on Seongnam Ilhwa in a play-off for third place.
The Brazilian side raced into 4-0 lead, and while Seongnam did pull two goals back late in the game, Internacional's superior quality enabled them to see the game out comfortably.
For Oscar, the victory was scant consolation for their early exit. However, he was pleased with the response of his team-mates, ensuring they finished the tournament in a positive manner.
'I didn't take part in the second game, but I remember it well because we were all feeling so down after losing to Mezembe,' he recalls.
All we were thinking about was meeting Inter - who had already qualified - in the final, and we were confident we could beat them.
'Unfortunately it wasn't to be, but luckily we managed to pull ourselves together, get our minds focused and win the last game, which enabled us to finish third in the overall standings.'
The nature of the draw for this season's Club World Cup ensures there is every possibility that the Blues, at some point, could come up against Corinthians, a team Oscar knows only too well from his playing days back home.
The Brazilian club are renowned for their vociferous support, and Oscar is fully expecting to see them descend on Japan in their droves, warning that the number of fans they bring to the tournament is likely to be well in excess of the predicted 10,000.
'I've played many times against Corinthians and it would be great if this fixture happened and we were able to meet in Japan,' says Oscar. 'However, I have learnt from past experience with Internacional that you have to take one game at a time.
'Of course, before you get to the final you have to play a semi-final but anything can happen. If we get to the final - which I hope we do - and have to face Corinthians, it will be great for me personally to play against a Brazilian side, but I will be doing my best to help Chelsea win the game.
'With regards to the 10,000, that's probably the amount of supporters who already have tickets in their hands, but you can expect many more.
'Corinthians have the largest fan base in Brazil and it's seen as a very important competition back home, so you should expect to see the stadiums filled with Corinthian supporters.'
Oscar has featured in all but one of our Premier League games so far this campaign, having made his Chelsea debut as a late substitute in the opening-day victory at Wigan Athletic.
His first start, in the Champions League game against Juventus at Stamford Bridge, saw the youngster make an instant impact, scoring two goals - the second of which will live long in the memory - and turning in an accomplished display which helped nullify the threat of Andrea Pirlo.
Perhaps surprisingly given his background, what has impressed supporters most about Oscar is not his unquestionable ability when in possession, but rather his work-rate and desire to win the ball back when it's surrendered and, thus far, he is pleased with how the move has worked out.
'I started off being eased into the team, and then I started my first match in the Champions League against Juventus and scored two goals,' he recalls fondly.
'Since then, I have been a regular in the first team, which has been great and something I really appreciate.
'I hope this can continue so I can grow and improve with every game I play for Chelsea. I'm very happy to be wearing the Chelsea shirt and to be able to help my team-mates and win games with them, so I hope I can continue my progression in order to help the club win many trophies.
'I'm very pleased with how I've adapted to the move and everything, so far, is going very well. I get along with all of the players, which is nice, and the only problem I have is the language. However, I'm picking it up quite quickly, I'm learning and I can communicate quite well with most of my team-mates. Off the pitch, I enjoy living in London, so I'm very happy at the moment.'
Of course, Oscar's decision to swap a relatively comfortable life in Brazil for a far more challenging proposition - on and off the pitch - in England comes with its own risks, particularly taking his tender years into account.
Adapting to a different lifestyle and culture is the type of transition anybody, regardless of their age, would find tricky, but thankfully for Oscar, on the field of play there aren't too many significant differences between his former and new homes.
'I think in England the league is more competitive and slightly more intense. The Premier League is one of the best leagues in the world, with some of the best players in the world,' he acknowledges.
'Most players across the world would love to have an opportunity to play in this country and it's great to be here.
'The biggest difference between the two leagues is that over here it's more dynamic, whereas in Brazil it's probably a bit more technical. The pace of the game in England is frenetic, but I love playing here.'
Our inaugural Club World Cup appearance is a sign of just how far the club have come in a relatively short period of time.
The Champions League triumph is a night that nobody connected with Chelsea will ever forget, but having been soundly beaten by Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup back in August, Oscar admits the Club World Cup has now taken on extra significance.
'I think we, as players, are all taking this competition very seriously. It's a very important trophy for every club and for the career of every individual,' he says.
'We are going to prepare for the competition extremely well, and the fact that it's the first time the club have taken part makes it even more important.'
For the record, Chelsea had the last laugh over Juninho and Middlesbrough in 1997, beating them in the one that really mattered - the FA Cup final at Wembley. Juninho, on that particular day, was a relatively peripheral figure, and his fellow countryman will be hopeful of having a far greater impact over the course of the next few days here in Japan.