World Soccer: Are Portugal one of the title contenders this summer?

Nani: It really depends on what happens in the group phase. We are in the toughest group so our primary objective is getting out of it. If we do that, then I think we have to be considered one of the favourites to win it all.

You are in a very difficult group. Who do you expect to go through?

If you take a look at what has happened in the past, then you have to say Germany and Holland are the favourites because they have a great pedigree in this competition. However, you never know what can happen, so Portugal and Denmark also harbour hopes of advancing to the next phase. It will depend a lot on what happens in the first and second matches in our group.

Are Spain favourites to win it?

Well, they are the defending champions so they have to be seen as favourites.It is true Spain have developed into a superpower over the last few years, but their past results do not guarantee them success in this tournament. To be honest, when I watched them in qualifying I didn’t think they were as strong as they have been previously.

Why do you think Portugal struggled so much during the early stages of the qualifying campaign?

I really don’t want to get into it, but I think there were a lot of issues around the team and I believe they affected the performances of the players.

How important is Cristiano Ronaldo to the national team, both on and off the pitch?

He is turning into a leader. He is acquiring a lot of experience as captain and learning how to deal with the responsibility that comes with that. The Portuguese people have always expected a lot from him, and since he is the captain they now expect even more. He can handle it, though. He is a fantastic professional who motivates everyone around him.

Do you think he is the best Portuguese player of all time?

I think he is proving that. Numbers don’t lie and they show he is simply phenomenal. To do what he has done – and continues to do, day in and day out – is incredible. Yes, I think he is on his way to becoming the best Portuguese player of all time.

Why is there a shortage of world-class strikers in Portugal?

I think it is very common in Portugal to find technical players, creative players, and not so much players who are pure target men. If it is a cultural or genetic thing, I really don’t know. What you have to see is that Portuguese people really aren’t that tall so it is tough to find big and strong strikers. Our kids grow up learning how to dribble, how to run with the ball, how to have the ball at their feet. They rarely play with their back to goal. That’s why I think there aren’t so many strikers in Portugal.

You, Ronaldo, Patricio, Veloso and Moutinho all came through Sporting Lisbon’s academy. What’s the secret of their success?

The Sporting academy has always been able to produce more quality players than others. It has a very good scouting department and the people there know how to nourish and protect the young players while they are developing. The coaches also encourage the youngsters to do well in their studies, so all the conditions are there for kids to succeed.

Pepe has a reputation of being quite an aggressive player. Do you agree, and are you worried that his conduct could be hazard for Portugal? 

I don’t agree. I have known Pepe for a long time and it is stupid to say he is an aggressive or a dirty player. What happens is that there is a lot of pressure at Real Madrid so at times he can be affected by that. But he is not the only one. Of course he will be at his best at the Euro… otherwise [smiling] I have to put him in line!

Interview by Pedro Pinto