Cristiano Ronaldo may have guided Portugal into the final of the European Championship, but he needed a little help from an often forgotten forward.
Nani made another vital contribution to Portugal’s bid to win Euro 2016, scoring his team’s second goal in the 2-0 victory over Wales on Wednesday.
The tournament has rejuvenated the 29-year-old forward, who once stood out with Ronaldo at Manchester United – before his star began to fade and Ronaldo went on to even greater glory at Real Madrid.
In France, the two former club teammates are in perfect sync, with each scoring three goals to guide an imperfect Portugal side into Sunday’s final at the Stade de France against either Germany or the tournament hosts.
”It’s an amazing moment. It’s a historic moment for our country and we have to celebrate,” Nani said.
Just three minutes after Ronaldo opened the scoring against Wales with a powerful header, Nani provided another devastating blow to Welsh hopes in Lyon. Timing his slide near the penalty spot just right, he turned an off-target shot by Ronaldo past goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and into the Wales net.
”It was a surprise goal,” Nani said. ”It was instinct.”
His reward included a round of applause from the Portuguese fans when he was replaced by Ricardo Quaresma with three minutes to play.
Euro 2016 is proving to be a high point in the career of Nani, who followed in Ronaldo’s footsteps by starting out at Sporting Lisbon and later moving to Old Trafford. The two helped United win the 2008 Champions League before Ronaldo left for Madrid a year later.
Though he struggled to secure a first-team place, Nani won four Premier League titles with United before returning to Sporting Lisbon on loan for a season in 2014. He was then signed by Fenerbahce in the Turkish league, a step down in the career ladder.
However, his earlier goals at Euro 2016 – the equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Iceland and a goal in the 3-3 draw with Hungary that saw Portugal squeak into the knockout stages – have not gone unnoticed.
Spanish league club Valencia announced on Tuesday that it had signed Nani to a three-year deal.
For the moment, though, his focus is on the national team, which is back in a European Championship final for the second time.
Unlike Ronaldo, Nani wasn’t there for Portugal’s previous final on home soil in 2004, when it surprisingly lost 1-0 to Greece in Lisbon.
But now he will get the chance to help Portugal exorcise those demons from 12 years ago.
”We still have the final to go. I don’t have an explanation for the feeling at this moment,” Nani said. ”But it’s not over.”