Portugal will open its qualifying campaign for the 2012 European Championship on Friday without injured captain Cristiano Ronaldo and without suspended coach Carlos Queiroz.
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Also missing for the Group H match against Cyprus is midfielder Deco, winger Simao Sabrosa and defender Paulo Ferreira – three of Portugal’s most capped players who have all retired from international football since the World Cup.
The absences are a setback for a Portuguese team eager to show its worth after a disappointing performance in South Africa where it went out in the second round against eventual champion Spain.
Only 13 of the 23-man World Cup squad have been called up. Some, such as defender Pepe, are unfit.
The federation earlier this month suspended Queiroz for one month on a charge of misconduct. An internal inquiry found that Queiroz insulted an anti-doping team sent to test the Portugal squad ahead of the World Cup.
That means Queiroz will also miss next week’s second group encounter against Norway in Oslo.
The coach may face a lengthier ban that would keep him away from the following two matches: unconfirmed reports say Portugal’s anti-doping agency has ruled that Queiroz also disrupted the anti-doping team’s work and suspended him for six months.
Goalkeeper Eduardo said the players won’t feel Queiroz’s absence.
"We have to shrug it off," Eduardo said. "We’d prefer everything to be sorted out and settled, but we’re confident."
Agostinho Oliveira, Queiroz’s assistant, is temporarily in charge of Portugal.
Ronaldo was ruled out of the first two qualifiers after picking up an injury last weekend playing for Real Madrid.
Ricardo Quaresma, who has shown strong form for Besiktas since his move from Inter Milan, and Manchester United winger Nani, who missed the World Cup through injury, are likely to step into the starting lineup. Valencia midfielder Manuel Fernandes, who was left off the World Cup squad, has also earned a recall.
Portugal trounced North Korea 7-0 in South Africa but settled for lackluster draws against Ivory Coast and Brazil. That record pushed Portugal from third to eighth in FIFA’s world ranking.
The departure of the squad’s most experienced players – all of them over 30 – has opened a door for a new generation. The average age of the 20-man squad for the Cyprus game is just over 26. In South Africa, the average was almost 28.
Defenders Fabio Coentrao and Silvio, both 22, and Nuno Coelho are all viewed as future mainstays of the Portugal team.
Cyprus captain Ioannis Okkas said the country’s qualifying campaign will not be easy, especially with its opener against a team which has won all eight of their previous encounters.
"Unfortunately, we had certainly been drawn in a very difficult group and I don’t need to analyze each opponent separately for us to understand the high degree of difficulty," Okkas said.