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Maniche: Playing for third place is bittersweet

  • 2006 World Cup semi-finalist talks about the third-place match
  • “Ronaldo was a kid, now he’s a certainty,” says Maniche
  • Maniche scored match winner against Mexico in 2006

By Marco Monteiro with Portugal

A semi-finalist at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, former Portugal midfielder Maniche is well rehearsed in both the joy and despair of the journey that ends in a match for third place.

Ahead of Portugal’s meeting with Mexico on Sunday, the former Atletico Madrid, Internazionale, Porto and Chelsea midfielder spoke exclusively to, while in Russia to watch the Tournament of Champions.

“I think big games come naturally to them now,” responded the member of the FIFA Legends programme when asked if the semi-final against Chile proved too much for Portugal. “As European champions, they’ve been there, they’ve passed through it, they’ve had the sufficient experience to enter those games with a certain level of calm.”

In 2006, while enjoying an outstanding World Cup that resulted in him being placed on the all-star team, Maniche’s World Cup trajectory was altered forever when Zinedine Zidane scored a penalty in the semi-final, ultimately sending the Portuguese into a third-place match with Germany.

Looking at Sunday’s third-place game against Mexico, he said: “I think because it’s their first time here, there will be a strong desire to finish with a powerful performance. They have demonstrated great personality and character, and I think we will see more of that on Sunday.”

Asked if every match counts when playing in your national colours, the man who scored a winner against Mexico at the 2006 World Cup, said: “For the Portuguese, it’s important for us to always stay connected to big victories. To play with calm, with respect for your opponent, with humility which is what I think this team does. And if possible, win. I think they gave everything here in Russia and will again on Sunday.”

Asked if a football player struggles to get some sleep the night before a big match, Maniche chose an interesting analogy: “I think of it like waiting for your wife to go into labour,” he said. “It’s a combination of nervousness and uncertainty. What’s going to happen? Some sleep better than others thanks to experience. It varies from player to player. Some soak in the pressure much easier than others, while other players carry that nervousness onto the pitch.”

Asked if it was strange to watch Cristiano Ronaldo play these days – a kid who started alongside Maniche during Portugal’s hosting of UEFA EURO 2004 and their fourth-place finish at the 2006 World Cup – he said: “Ronaldo in this moment is a reference for all of us. In those moments, in 2004 and 2006, our team had a lot of references like Figo, Rui Costa, Fernando Couto, Pauleta… Players that coincided with my generation.

“Ronaldo was starting out, just a kid, still learning, let’s say still following. Now, now he is a certainty, he’s the best in the world. He’s a player whose presence defines the team and he feels that responsibility and he likes that responsibility. I think all Portuguese people should be proud of his accomplishments for the national team and for his club, because in the end, he’s carrying our flag up high.”

EltasZone Sportswriters, Sports Analysts, Opinion columnists, editorials and op-eds. Analysis from The Zone Team
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