24/04/2024

Portuguese winger Nani dazzled in his first Victory appearance. (Image: Melbourne Victory FC)

Marquee man Luis Nani has wasted little time having an impact for his new club, playing a big part in Melbourne Victory’s win over rivals Sydney FC in their A-League Men 2022/23 season opener.

In blustery conditions at the revamped Allianz Stadium, the weather didn’t stop the former Portuguese international from putting on a clinic against the Sky Blues, adding a spark for the Victory on the left wing.

The winger played a hand in his side’s go-ahead goal in the 67th minute, finding space on the right wing before playing a low cross to spot up Chris Ikonomidis. He scored accordingly from inside the six yard box to the high centre of the goal to put the Victory 2-1 ahead.

But it wasn’t just his goal contribution that delighted the Victory army.

Nani was threatening on the wing, finishing the game with four chances created. He was strikingly accurate, with a pass completion rate of 90 per cent, and wasn’t dispossessed once, with his ball distribution a key factor in the side’s win.

Though it was his first A-League Men appearance, the 35-year-old looks to have found his feet, dangerous alongside Jake Brimmer, Ben Folami and Nick D’Agostino.

Nani proved his worth defensively, tracking back to win the ball back for his side, finishing the game with four recoveries.

Coming up against an experienced back four in Rhyan Grant, James Donachie, Alex Wilkinson and Diego Cabello, he got the advantage over them skill-wise and proved to be a nightmare match-up because of his all-round capability.

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Speaking post-game, Nani believed it was hard first hit out but is happy with his and team’s start to the new campaign.

“It was amazing. It was a tough game, the opponent was very tough from the beginning of the game,” he said.

“It was a good start to the season. I hope we can continue to produce games like that… we’ve been working hard for this moment.”

With the Victory pinching the three points at a venue where they’d historically struggled, head coach Tony Popovic was pleased with the side’s performance, acknowledging it was no easy feat.

“We scored three away goals at a fantastic stadium against a tough opponent. It’s a big win, a great win,” the coach said post-game.

“It’s a brand new backline apart from Miranda… so we know that will improve.

“If you look at our second and third goals, they were fantastic goals. It’s a good team performance and a great start to the season.”

Labelling Nani’s performance as “class” he was also complimentary of fellow winger Chris Ikonomidis who made an impact having started the game on the bench.

Coming on in the 62nd minute, Ikonomidis would put his side ahead, having been set up by their Portuguese star man.

He’d then set up skipper Josh Brillante to put the side 3-2 ahead and ensure they walked away with all three points inside the final ten minutes. Contributing to two goals in just 28 minutes of playing time, the winger put in one of his best performances in Victory colours.

Having struggled with injury and poor form last season, Ikonomidis looks a much improved player this season, with the Victory boss saying saying he’s now fully fit and is expecting him to kick on this season.

“He had a very good pre-season, he’s certainly recovered fully from the issue he had with his knee,” Popovic said.

“He came on and made the impact we know he can, which will give him more belief not in his ability but in his body.”

Melbourne Victory will be looking to make it two from two when they face the Western Sydney Wanderers in their first home game of the season at AAMI Park on October 15.

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