Portugal winger Varela hits limelight at Euro 2012

Portugal winger Varela hits limelight at Euro 2012

Published Jun. 15, 2012 4:53 p.m. ET

Silvestre Varela has become Portugal's accidental hero.

The FC Porto winger rose from obscurity and pushed the misfiring Cristiano Ronaldo out of the spotlight at the European Championship with his winning goal against Denmark.

And the 27-year-old Varela's triumph over adversity could be just the kind of grit Portugal needs in its must-win match against the Netherlands on Sunday.

''This is one of the best moments of my career,'' Varela said Friday.


That's no understatement for a player who four years ago looked doomed to spending his career at minor clubs.

Varela came on as a late substitute against the Danes and clinched a 3-2 victory with three minutes to play. It was his first goal for Portugal in an official match and gave the Portuguese a chance of advancing to the quarterfinals if they can defeat the Dutch.

Varela has struggled to get into the team, where he is competing for a place against Ronaldo and Nani.

''Any player likes to be in the starting lineup,'' Varela said. ''If the coach thinks I'm best used as a sub, then I have to accept that and do my best.''

Varela was a surprise pick for Portugal's Euro 2012 squad after starting only 13 times for Porto last season. He appeared only twice as a substitute, playing just seven minutes, in Portugal's qualifying campaign.

Varela came up through Sporting Lisbon's youth training scheme but the club lost interest in him and loaned him to Recreativo Huelva for the 2007-08 season.

In Spain, he didn't score once, and Sporting sold him to Estrela da Amadora, a minor Portuguese club, the following season in what appeared to be a dead-end move. But there, Varela scored five goals in 28 games and drew the attention of Porto, where he moved in 2009 and collected 16 goals in 42 games in his first season.

''I never gave up,'' Varela said. ''I always believe I can improve.''

He missed an opening at the 2010 World Cup, when Nani was sidelined, through injury. Now, with Ronaldo's goal knack mysteriously deserting him, Varela is claiming his place in the limelight.

Still, you won't find him criticizing the Real Madrid forward who scored 60 goals for his club last year but has failed to find the net in his last four matches with Portugal.

''He's got nothing to prove,'' Varela said of Ronaldo. ''He's already shown what he can do.''