Mike Holden is backing Nani to shine for Portugal as they face Austria
It’s not often a household name in European football rocks up in the Turkish Super Lig and resurrects his career, most treat the experience of playing for one the big Istanbul clubs as a process of semi-retirement. But Nani is proving to be a notable exception to that rule and he looks decent value in the goalscorer markets for Portugal’s pivotal clash with Austria.
The 29-year-old Fenerbahce man has just enjoyed his most productive season in front of goal since the last Euros, scoring eight times in 25 starts to match his efforts when lifting the Premier League title with Manchester United in 2011/12. And it’s a measure of how much he is enjoying his football that he turned down a lucrative move to China in the last transfer window (said to be worth £7.6m a year), upsetting his wife in the process.
So we probably shouldn’t be too surprised that he looked quite sharp around the penalty box in the Group F opener against Iceland. He stole a yard on his marker to break the deadlock with a close range finish on the half-hour mark, while going agonisingly close with a couple of glancing headers that just evaded the far post from in-swinging free-kicks.
The goal in Saint-Etienne was his 19th at international level and his fourth in the last eight appearances for Portugal, so he’s evidently in the mood to try and make this a career-defining tournament. As such, there could be a spot of value in the 8/1 available on Nani to score the first goal and 3/1 on Nani to score anytime.
The match itself looks quite trappy. My ratings make Austria a worthy investment at 4/1 but my instincts aren’t convinced. When the going gets tough, there’s usually no substitute for big-tournament experience and the Portugese have it in abundance, whereas the stage fright suffered by Marcel Koller’s men against Hungary sets alarm bells ringing.
It also aids Portugal’s cause to have the stalemate as a fallback. Both teams will know the outcome of the earlier Iceland v Hungary game just before kick-off and that might change the complexion slightly, but the onus is surely on Austria to make the running in this game and erase the memory of their Bordeaux debacle.
However, given how easily the Magyars kept them at arm’s length, you’d expect a defence containing Pepe and Ricardo Carvalho to do likewise. This could be a slow burner in which Fernando Santos’ men bide their time and wait for Austria to overcommit before taking control in the closing stages. If Austria did force the breakthrough, it would only benefit the game as a spectacle.