There’s no way round it. Nani’s injury is a big blow to the Selecção. The news broke like a bombshell in Portugal. It struck a wound to our hopes. But perhaps not a mortal one.
In a team that has consistently struggled for goals since Carlos Queiroz took the reins after Euro 2008 (take out the Malta games and Portugal scored 9 goals in 8 qualification matches), Nani was Portugal’s most potent goal threat after Ronaldo. His sparkling end of season form for Manchester United was carried through to the Selecção’s recent friendlies. Nani was Portugal’s best player against both Cape Verde and Cameroon. He had done enough in most people’s eyes to push his way in front of Simão on the opposite wing to Ronaldo, although we will now never know if Carlos Queiroz saw it that way.
Yet there is a more than credible silver lining to this cloud. As has been the norm over the past decade (Figo, Simão, Quaresma, Ronaldo, Nani, Danny), Portugal continue to be blessed with an inordinate number of top-drawer wingers. Nani is one of Portugal’s brightest stars no doubt. Yet it is precisely the position where the nation has most cover. Both left backs Fábio Coentrão and Duda are actually converted wingers, and pretty useful ones at that. Simão Sabrosa is Portugal’s most capped player in South Africa, with 81 appearances, and is no slouch in the goalscoring department himself, having netted 21 goals in a Portugal shirt.
But perhaps the real hidden boon for Portugal is the fact that Zenit St Petersburg’s flying forward Danny, the man who single-handedly destroyed Manchester United in the 2008 European Super Cup, could now play very much more than a bit part role. Despite that memorable performance, incredibly on his Zenit debut, Danny is not a name on the lips of most World Cup pundits. Playing in the low-profile Russian league, combined with a year out with a cruciate knee ligament tear explains this oversight.
Dan the man
Since returning to action at the start of the Russian championship, Danny has been back to his magnificent best. The winger come striker come attacking midfielder scored 4 goals in 10 matches, supplied a host of assists and was voted Player of Month in Russia in the opening month of the campaign. His form in Portugal’s warm-up games has been equally impressive. His man-of-the-match display in yesterday’s 3-0 victory over Mozambique, hours after Nani’s absence was confirmed, came on the back of lively showings in earlier friendlies against Cape Verde and Cameroon.
As a newspaper headline in Portugal so eloquently put it this morning: “We’ve got no Nani but we’ve got Danny!”