5 September 2014 18:12
Portugal are missing Cristiano Ronaldo but Nani is sure the rest of the squad can step up in their Euro 2016 qualifying opener with Albania.
Real Madrid talisman Ronaldo was a surprise omission from Paulo Bento’s 24-man party for the Group I clash at the Estadio Municipal de Aveiro on Sunday.
The 29-year-old forward struggled with knee and thigh injuries during Portugal’s World Cup campaign but had been involved during the start of Real’s season at the time Bento named his squad on August 29.
However, Bento opted to leave the former Manchester United man out of his squad, stating that he was not physically ready to play, a decision that appears vindicated as Ronaldo missed the European champions’ trip to Real Sociedad last Sunday with a knee complaint.
While his absence may be a concern to supporters, Sporting Lisbon winger Nani has no such fears.
“All players, even the younger ones, have shown in practice their value in being here and [they deserve] to have opportunities,” he said.
“[I want] to see everything evolve because what matters is that we have a strong group.”
Nani, who is on a season-long loan at Sporting from Manchester United, is desperate for a flying start to bring some joy to supporters after their group-stage exit in Brazil.
Bento’s men have not played a competitive match since beating Ghana 2-1 in their final clash at the world’s showpiece event but that victory proved in vain as the United States went through in second by virtue of a superior goal difference.
“We want to win, no matter who will excel in the game,” Nani added. “We want to give joy to our country, playing as a team, working together.
“We know there are no easy games, football is evolving and we know that the game against Albania will be very difficult, as the other group matches will be.”
Portugal – who will hand a late check to full-back Fabio Coentrao (knock) – have beaten Albania on four of the five occasions the two teams have met, although Albania’s last trip to the Portugal produced a 0-0 draw in 2008.
Albania have never qualified for a major tournament, but results in recent years have improved and they have not finished bottom of a qualifying group in their past six campaigns.
Indeed, Gianni De Biasi’s men had been outsiders for a play-off spot in their European qualification campaign for the World Cup having won three of their opening five matches.
However, their next five yielded just two points and Albania could only muster a fifth-placed finish.