Nani celebrates milestone for Portugal with hand in winner

AP News
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Posted: Jun 25, 2016 8:43 PM
Nani celebrates milestone for Portugal with hand in winner

LENS, France (AP) — That was some way for Portugal winger Nani to celebrate his 100th cap.

With barely minutes to go in its round of 16-match against Croatia at the European Championship on Saturday, Portugal conjured a winner from its first really penetrating attack.

And Nani, who had hardly featured in what was a pretty drab match, was involved in the attack. It was he who set up Cristiano Ronaldo, whose shot was saved firmly by Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic. Unfortunately for Subasic the ball landed invitingly for the stooping Ricardo Quaresma to head home.

The 1-0 victory in the northern French town of Lens ensured Portugal reached the quarterfinals of the European Championship for the sixth time in a row.

Nani's coach Fernando Santos was fulsome in his praise of the winger as he reached a career milestone.

"It's always a beautiful number to reach," said Santos, who praised Nani for showing "great determination, a lot of commitment."

Nani became only the second player of Portugal's current squad, and fourth overall, to reach the 100 mark. Ronaldo, the national record holder, earned his 130th cap against Croatia.

Nani and Ronaldo share a number of similarities.

Each scored twice as Portugal squeezed through the group stage with three straight draws against Iceland, Austria and Hungary. Both also played for Sporting Lisbon before joining Manchester United.

But for the most part, Nani has been outshone by his more illustrious countryman.

Born in Cape Verde and moving to Portugal as a kid, Nani joined Sporting in 2005 as an 18-year-old, a little less than two years after Ronaldo had left the club for Old Trafford.

They first played together in the national team during a 4-2 loss to Denmark in a September 2006 friendly, and became teammates at Manchester United the following year, helping the club win the Premier League and the Champions League in Nani's first season at Old Trafford.

Nani finally stepped out of his compatriot's shadow after Ronaldo's move to Real Madrid in 2009 and was central to the further success of the club.

However, his impact started to fade and he returned to Sporting on loan in 2014 after Louis van Gaal took over at Old Trafford.

That move helped kick-start his career and Nani was instrumental in Sporting winning the Portuguese cup last year.

He's now at Turkish club Fenerbahce and reportedly the subject of interest from Inter Milan and Liverpool, among others.