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Portugal's Man for the moment

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June 26, 2006 04:36 IST

Two years ago at the European Championship Nuno Maniche played a leading role in Portugal's 2-1 semi-final victory over the Netherlands, scoring one of those two goals that took them to a final meeting with Greece. On Sunday, at the World Cup, he was again Holland's nemesis. This time his goal turned out to be the match-winner and put Portugal into the quarter-finals.

Nuno ManicheIn an ill-tempered match that saw four red and eight yellow cards being flashed, and both teams reduced to nine men, the 28-year-old midfielder was the vital cog in Portugal's challenge. His enterprise in midfield, particularly when Portugal were down to nine men after Deco was given marching orders, prevented the Dutch from stringing together a decent attack down the middle.

A shrewd playmaker, Maniche also enjoys darting upfront to assist in attacks on the rival goal. The 23rd minute goal against the Dutch was the outcome of a clever piece of understanding with his midfield colleague Deco.

Cristiano Ronaldo showing great strength on the ball to hold off his marker on the right flank before releasing the it for Deco towards the right corner flag. The Barca midfielder fired in a precise cross to Pauletta, who laid the ball Maniche. After controlling the ball, Maniche too a couple of steps, looked up and crashed his shot past the Netherlands captain and goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.

Minutes later he had another clear look at the Dutch goal, but his curling shot sailed just over.

A member of Porto's European championship side, Maniche moved to Dynamo Moscow before linking up with former coach Jose Mourinho again at Chelsea for a five-month loan that has now ended.

At Euro 2004 he was one of Portugal's most important players. It was not surprising that Luiz Felipe Scolari was happy to have him back from Chelsea, where he struggled to make an impact. Now, having now scored crucial goals against Mexico and the Netherlands, he could just be Portugal's trump card at this World Cup. England better watch out!