As he wheeled away to celebrate, “it was significant,” according to one report, “that Maniche, following the second Portugal goal, dashed not towards his fellow players but into the arms of [Luiz Felipe] Scolari, like a child seeking approval from his father.”
It was approval he never quite found, however. Outstanding throughout Euro 2004, Nuno Maniche, to give him his full name, arrived at the tournament off the back of winning the Champions League with Porto. The midfielder’s performances for Jose Mourinho’s team had prompted his late arrival to international football in March 2003 at the age of 25, when he made his debut in a 2-1 victory against a Brazil team Big Phil had led to World Cup glory less than a year earlier.
But six months later he found himself out of favour again, dropped after a lacklustre performance against Spain in another friendly. “Sometimes,” said Scolari, “I have to play the role of a father who punishes his children.”
Lesson learned, Maniche returned in time for the tournament, playing every minute as the hosts reached the final. If his first first international goal – a half-volley after he expertly controlled Deco’s cross in the group game against Russia – was good, his second was out of this world.
Picking up Cristiano Ronaldo’s quickly-taken short corner, Maniche had only one things on his mind: “I could have crossed the ball but I opted to shoot. Seeing as [Edwin] Van der Sar is a tall goalkeeper, I knew that the only spot where he did not have a chance was the top corner and fortunately it went in.”
But as he unleashed the ball from the left-hand corner of the box, even a perfectly-hit shot into the very top corner wouldn’t have been enough on its own to beat the long-levered Dutch keeper. It’s the bend, like a fast bowler achieving late swing, that beats Van der Sar, who comically tries to blame his defenders for not closing down Maniche quickly enough.
He dedicated what turned out to be the winner to Portugal’s fans, “who were cheering us on prior to the game, from our team’s headquarters to the stadium.”
“I have scored great goals,” he continued, “but this is probably one of the best I have netter for the national team.” Make that the best.
At the 2006 World Cup, Maniche was again one of Portugal’s stars, scoring twice as the team reached the semi-finals. But still the daddy issues persisted.
“Coincidence or not, in the Scolari era it was always with me that indecision and doubts occurred,” the player recalled. “Honestly, I do not know why.”
“I was at the World Cup, at a level that people thought I would not reach, then I was operated on and was not in a good moment, but it was Scolari who said for me to be operated on and that he was counting on me, and on the last day everything changed.”
Having played a key role in Euro 2008 qualifying, Maniche was left out of the squad for the finals, and although he briefly returned after Scolari’s departure, his international career was over by 2009.”
There’s no doubt what was the highlight, though. “Of course I have special memories of that match [against Holland] because of my goal.”
Us too, Nuno, us too.
Maniche finds the far corner beautifully
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