Sao Paulo - When Wendell Lira soared through a rainy night sky to score the opening goal of a mid-season match in a Brazilian regional football league, there were 342 people in the stands.
None of them could have imagined that the unknown forward, who was released by his club, Goianesia, several months later, would end up competing with Lionel Messi for the Puskas Award, FIFA's prize for the best goal of the year.
Lira, 26, was startled when he found out - quite literally.
He had just left his house in Goiania, in the heart of Brazil, on Monday morning when a car suddenly pulled up and blocked his path.
He thought he was about to be robbed.
But the driver got out, asked him for a photo, and told him his stunning bicycle kick against defending champions Atletico Goianiense eight months back had returned from the past to change his life.
"When I got the news, I didn't believe it at first. Then my wife called me, crying, and I started crying with her. I couldn't believe it. It was very emotional," Lira said.
Lira, a journeyman footballer schooled in the humble stadiums of Brazil's lesser leagues, will share the stage on January 11 in Zurich with Barcelona superstar Messi and Roma's Alessandro Florenzi, the other two finalists for the coveted award.
The prize, whose past winners include Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Neymar and James Rodriguez, will be awarded during the Ballon d'Or ceremony for best player of the year - a star-studded, red-carpet gala watched in millions of homes around the world.
The journey since that rain-drenched March night led first to the opening round of the contest.
Lira learned on November 6 that world football's governing body had shortlisted his goal as one of the 10 best scored and captured on video in official tournaments worldwide in the past year.