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Nani, Pepe aim to make experience count

After the exhilarating experiences of Austria and Switzerland four years ago, a “more mature” Nani is looking forward to witnessing the sights and sounds of UEFA EURO 2012 and once again feeling the “fantastic support” of Portugal’s travelling faithful this summer.

UEFA EURO 2008 was Nani’s maiden tournament with the Portugal national side and it was an experience that made a huge impression on the winger, who was just 21 at the time. “It was something huge, and I was very happy,” Nani told UEFA.com. “The full stadiums, feeling the human warmth of our fans, it felt as if we were playing at home. There were Portuguese everywhere. Whenever we were on the team bus, there were queues of Portuguese people. It was fantastic.”

While some of the high points of that campaign happened off the pitch for Nani, Pepe’s golden moment in Austria and Switzerland came on the field of play. The defender looked more like a forward as he opened the scoring in style in Portugal’s first match against Turkey, although the Real Madrid CF man is guaranteeing no repeat performance this summer.

“I was younger,” the 29-year-old told UEFA.com. “I didn’t really know about the responsibilities of playing at a EURO, and finishing off moves like that. Obviously, I like to take the odd risk like that to help my team-mates out up front, but first and foremost a central defender needs to defend, and defend well. [But] if I get the chance to make a play like that one against Turkey, obviously I will look to take it.”

In a group that pits Portugal against Germany (their nemesis in the quarter-finals last time), Netherlands and Denmark, it will require top performances from any team to progress. Inevitably, the Portuguese focus will fall on Cristiano Ronaldo – but that is nothing new to his team-mates. “I think Cristiano has always had a lot of responsibility since he was 18, and people put a lot of pressure on him,” said Pepe. “People now understand the importance of the squad. The squad needs to give support to Cristiano, so Cristiano can be calm and play his football.”

Nani has also recognised the importance of remaining calm and collected. The former Sporting Club de Portugal midfielder enjoyed two seasons alongside his compatriot at Manchester United FC before he departed for Madrid, and having helped fill the void left by Ronaldo’s Old Trafford exit, he believes he can play a more significant role than he did at the last EURO, when he started just once.

“I’ve already evolved a lot, I’ve already learned a lot,” said the winger, who hit five goals in ten EURO 2012 qualifying appearances. “I’m much more developed as a player in all respects, much more mature. I have a calm which I didn’t have when I was 21, I’m much calmer on the pitch, and that’s very important because then you can develop your football. Here in the national team it has been like that – I have been able to play and to contribute to team, and that’s the most important thing.”

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