Nani's role as the Robin to Ronaldo's Batman gives Poland something to worry about

Portugal winger turns striker as Fernando Santos tries to find a way to unlock Ronaldo's talents

BY Raf Diallo 15:50 Thursday 30 June 2016, 15:50 30 Jun 2016

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates with his teammate Nani, left, after scoring his side's second goal during the Euro 2016 Group F soccer match between Hungary and Portugal at the Grand Stade in Decines-Charpieu, near Lyon, France, Wednesday, June 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Tonight's Euro 2016 quarter-final clash between Portugal and Poland could be decided by which side can bring the best out of their main star.

On one side, Robert Lewandowski has struggled to score, although he is part of a collective that has brought Poland into uncharted territory at a European Championship.

Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo has had an interesting tournament to say the least, as Portugal's clear standout talent.

His opening games were underwhelming, marked by a sulky comment about Iceland, a missed penalty against Austria and throwing a reporter's microphone into a lake during a quiet walk with his team-mates (there was some justification for his anger about the latter though!)

But he did turn up in style against Hungary in the enthralling 3-3 draw which helped Portugal sneak into the last-16 where they bored Europe to death along with Croatia.

Ronaldo's only shot on target which fell nicely to Ricardo Quaresma in the 116th minute paved the way for victory and a quarter-final place but he will hope for a much improved showing when he takes to the field against Poland.

For this is a team geared towards getting the best out of the Real Madrid star. As Andy Brassell wrote on ahead of the tournament, the quasi-4-4-2 shape they have used thus far is about reducing the amount of running he must do as he moves ever more centrally.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos, right, talks to Portugal's Nani during the Euro 2016 round of 16 soccer match between Croatia and Portugal at the Bollaert stadium in Lens, France, Saturday, June 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

That's because Nani is doing the running. Portugal's problem even stretching as far back as their 1990s golden generation is the inability to find a top class striker to complement the talents further back.

Nani, himself, was a twinkle-toed and equally frustrating winger at Manchester United, but he does bring pace and his redeployment as a forward is meant to create space and openings for Ronaldo as a Robin figure to the more vaunted Batman. Indeed, Nani's pace is evident in the fact that the 31km/hr top speed he clocked up against Iceland was the ninth highest mark of any player at Euro 2016 so far.

In the Hungary game, a wonderful slide-rule pass from Ronaldo allowed Batman to set up Robin for Portugal's opening goal that afternoon, while Nani also scored in the 1-1 draw with Iceland with a near post run aided by his pace.

But even Ronaldo's shot which led to Quaresma's goal on Saturday night was down to the fact that Nani had pulled wide and fired a cross-shot (seemingly more the latter) across goal which landed where Ronaldo had stationed himself as a focal point.

So when Poland are looking at how to nullify Ronaldo, it's Nani who they also have to be wary of as well in terms of the runs he will make to help his more illustrious team-mate thrive. 


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