Wendell Lira: Puskas Award nomination a f***ing shock

EXCLUSIVE: The Vila Nova striker has revealed he thought a fan who stopped him in the street to ask for a photo was about to assault him after learning of the accolade
Vila Nova striker Wendell Lira has admitted he thought his nomination for the Puskas Award was a prank.

The 26-year-old, who plays in the third tier in Brazil, has made the final shortlist of three contenders for the goal of the year prize with Roma winger Alessandro Florenzi and Barcelona star Lionel Messi.

Lira says he had to check the news on the internet before he believed he had been nominated - and even thought a fan who stopped him in the street to ask for a photo was about to assault him.

"I was at my mother's house and it was impossible for the telephone to stop ringing, and the Whatsapp messages kept coming," he told Goal.

"Then I went to see what was happening and there were lots of messages congratulating me. I though it was a prank but they sent me the links and then I believed it. I was shocked."

On making the three-man shortlist, he added: "Oh, it was another f***ing shock. I was leaving my house at around 12pm and a guy blocked my way. I thought I was f***ed, that he would assault me.

"But then he took out his phone and asked for a photo. After that he told me I was among the finalists.

"It was very emotional, a gift from God. It's an honour to be recognised outside Brazil, and I'm very happy to participate in the Fifa Puskas Award. It's like a dream, I didn't expect it.

"Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar... just imagine! I'm going to be surrounded by 'cracks'. I have an old suit, but now I have to buy another one for the ceremony.

"Those guys are my idols, especially Ronaldo. I want to take a picture with him and everybody else... maybe he will even talk about my goal!"

Lira revealed he nearly signed for Italian giants AC Milan as a teenager only for the move to be delayed and then fall through after he suffered a serious knee injury.

"It was one of the hardest moments of my life, because I lost a big chance to play in Europe," he reflected.

"I was very young, 17-years-old. I was playing for Goias when a R$6 million (€1.5m) offer came from Milan. I had just signed a five-year deal with Goias and they told me to wait a little.

"I think they wanted to make more profit from selling me. In the end, there was no deal and a year later I suffered a serious injury on my knee that kept me out of football for one year.

"When I came back, it wasn't that good so I played for lots of clubs until I signed for Vila Nova."