The Portugal captain scored twice and produced one assist to save his country from a group stage exit three times against Hungary on Thursday. In doing so, the 31-year-old became the first player to score at four consecutive European Championships and, on the day he became the competition’s record appearance holder, took his international tally to 60 goals in 129 games. His past 29 matches for Portugal have yielded 23 goals.
Ronaldo came into the Hungary game under intense scrutiny following a problematic start to the Euros on and off the pitch. Having registered his first goals in a convincing individual display, however, his former Manchester United team-mate Nani believes the three-times world player of the year will maintain that form for the remainder of the tournament.
Nani, set to make his 100th appearance for Portugal against Croatia on Saturday, said: “Everyone knows Cristiano and what he can do at any time, in any minute in a game. I am 100% sure he will go on and score more goals now. Of course he can. No one can say anything against him. He is a fantastic player. Every time he is faced with difficult moments. He showed it again against Hungary when everyone was talking about him – he has shut them all up now.”
Fernando Santos, the Portugal coach, said his team were unconvincing in the final third against Iceland and Austria but Nani insisted Ronaldo’s influence is not measured by goals alone.
“I think Cristiano has always been there, always playing well for us throughout the tournament,” the Fenerbahce forward said. “It doesn’t mean that when he is not scoring, he is not playing well. The whole team has been. We had two great performances in our other games as well but we promised we’d score against Hungary and we have got three so I am very pleased.
“Obviously I am disappointed that we conceded three but we were a bit unlucky with the bounce on two of them. So we’re happy, we’re in the next stage, we will focus on that and keep believing we can reach our targets.”
Portugal would have secured second place in Group F and a last-16 date with England but for Iceland’s stoppage-time winner over Austria. But third place after three draws in the group stage has presented Santos’s team with the more daunting assignment of facing the Group D winners, Croatia, in Lens.
Nani said: “To tell you the truth, before we came here we said our ambitions were very high. We said we wanted to win this competition. Any team we play, we must believe we can win so it doesn’t matter who we will face now. It will be difficult against Croatia. They have one day more than us to rest but we are professional, so we will get a quick rest and prepare for the game.”
Nani has scored twice for Portugal at the Euros and, despite remaining on the receiving end of frequent rollickings from Ronaldo, has been a valuable outlet. “Every time I play for the national team I have done my best, I always will try to help,” he said. “Sometimes I’m better than others; sometimes I play well, others not so. That’s how it is. At moment I am doing well and am very pleased with that. I hope I can carry on with that.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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