Even a bullish, eternal optimist like SL Benfica coach Jorge Jesus must think his team's prospects of UEFA Champions League progress are compromised. Their 2-1 Group G defeat at FC Spartak Moskva on matchday three leaves them with an uphill task to qualify. First up for the bottom-placed club is the return match against Spartak in Lisbon on 7 November.
Still, maybe the Eagles have a trump card up their sleeve. In times of hardship the call is often to go back to basics. Yet Liga leaders Benfica's best bet could be to place their faith in a man who arrived in the Portuguese capital in the final minutes of the summer transfer window and who has scored six goals in his last seven appearances.
Rodrigo José Lima dos Santos – more commonly, just Lima – has made a name for himself as an unassuming springboard for success in the UEFA competitions in recent seasons. Shortly after joining SC Braga from CF Os Belenenses in 2010, he came on as a substitute at Sevilla FC's Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán to strike a stunning hat-trick. That sent the club from northern Portugal through to the UEFA Champions League group stage at the expense of the highly fancied Spanish side.
Part of a large Brazilian clique under coach Domingos Paciência at the time, Lima also helped to get Braga up and running in the competition proper. He scored their first goal of the group phase, a beautiful free-kick against FK Partizan on matchday three, setting his team on the way to a 2-0 victory after opening defeats by Arsenal FC and FC Shakhtar Donetsk. They eventually moved into the UEFA Europa League spring campaign – to memorable effect.
Lima, now 29, registered his first European goal for Benfica in Moscow, heading in an Eduardo Salvio delivery to give his side short-lived parity. That effort may ultimately have been in vain, but it once again demonstrated that he has an ability to step up to the plate in even the most unpromising of situations.
Not just a goalscorer, Lima's industry and intelligent running mean defenders can never rest. Most importantly, as he showed for Braga – from the Sevilla tie all the way to the 2011 UEFA Europa League final against FC Porto in Dublin – he never stops believing. And as long as he leads the line, neither will Benfica.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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