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Brazilian 'Mr Average' fuels Braga's surprise title challenge

limaIf those provincial upstarts at Braga are making such a sustained tilt at their first-ever Portuguese league title, piecing together a remarkable sequence of wins from December through March, much of the credit must go to their Brazilian striker Lima. The 28-year-old's exceptional strength in one-on-one duels, coupled with his low centre of gravity, speed, sneaky movement off the ball and explosive right foot, has turned him into the most in-form goalgetter in Portugal this season.

His best friend in football, compatriot and Gil Vicente centre-back Claudio, may describe him as "an exceptional man, though insecure", but Claudio must know something we don’t. In the course of this season, Lima - who is from the southern Brazilian state of Parana - has not betrayed the slightest hint of apprehension or lack of confidence. From open play or set-pieces, he has been the epitome of the sharp-shooting front man, not only being in with a great chance of ending the campaign as the Portuguese league’s number one goalscorer but also on target four times in the Europa League.

And not for Lima the fast-track bully modus operandi of only piling on the goals against the lesser lights, either.
This season he has been rampant against minnows and the domestic “big three” alike, and it says everything about his state of grace that despite knowing exactly how he likes to operate - generally running into space to latch on to cute passes from the likes of fellow Brazilians Alan and Mossoro - defenders still cannot shut him down.

Very much on course to become Braga's best single-season goalscorer of all-time (the current record belongs to the Angolan, Chico Gordo, who hit 21 in 1977-78), Lima's current petal-strewn path stands in marked comparison to his first taste of the Portuguese game eight years ago. Snapped up in 2003 by third division Vizela, the 20-year-old Lima suffered terribly with homesickness and within a year he had gone home to Brazil, where apart from a few flashes of success - appearances in the Libertadores Cup with Parana and Santos - he generally was perceived as an itinerant “Mr Average", busking from club to club.

Unexpected runners-up

The turning point of Lima’s career would come in 2009 when Portuguese top-flight side Belenenses recruited him from Brazilian outfit Avai - and this time he did not flop. He impressed sufficiently to warrant a switch one year later to Braga, where he helped the club to a most unexpected runners-up spot in last season’s Europa League.

"During his first spell in Portugal, with Vizela, he was not at all lacking in ability,” reflects Claudio. “He already had that very strong shot of his, and his movement was great.

“But you have to say that on turning up to play for Belenenses, he was another player completely. He had filled out physically and played with a lot more intensity. He was the finished article and it was only a matter of time before he went into orbit.”

So, could Lima one day take the naturalisation route and represent Portugal? His uncle, Coronel Nunes, the president of the Parana state football association in Brazil, certainly thinks it possible. “I'd love to see it happen," he says. "In my opinion he could be another Deco."

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