WORLD CUP: Portugal’s hopes aided by extra rest for Ronaldo
By allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to sit out less meaningful matches, Madrid’s management of the 33-year-old forward in the twilight of his career means he should not be worn out in Russia.
The five-time world player of the year is leading a squad that broke through to win its first major title at the 2016 European Championship.
“Ronaldo is crucial,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said, “but we know that to win we need to play well as a team.”
Santos accepts that Portugal is not among the leading contenders for the title in Russia, even though there’s a familiar look about the squad. From the team that started in the final against France two years ago, only Nani and Renato Sanches will not make it to Russia.
Here’s a closer look at the Portugal team:
The softly-spoken Santos spent most of his career coaching clubs in Greece and Portugal, including Porto, Sporting Lisbon and Benfica, before being handed the Greece national team job in 2010.
As Portugal was failing to advance from its group in 2014, Santos was becoming the first coach to lead Greece into a World Cup knockout phase.
Rui Patricio of Sporting Lisbon should be starting in goal for another tournament after keeping clean sheets in the semifinals and final at Euro 2016.
The reserves will be Anthony Lopes and Beto, with Benfica’s Bruno Varela as a reserve option.
Just like at every major tournament since Euro 2008, expect to see veterans Pepe and Bruno Alves in command in central defense.
But Santos will be without Euro 2016 starter Danilo Pereira after the defensive midfielder sustained a partial tear on his left Achilles tendon while playing with Porto. He also didn’t call up Andre Gomes, who had a disappointing season with Barcelona.
This is Ronaldo’s domain. After a slow start to the season, Ronaldo has rediscovered his scoring consistency at Real Madrid since January.
Leading the attack with Ronaldo is likely to be 22-year-old Andre Silva, who made his tournament debut last year at the Confederations Cup when Portugal finished third.
Nani and Eder, whose goal in extra time sealed the Euro 2016 victory over France, were left out of the tournament in Russia.
Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Beto (Goztepe), Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon)
Defenders: Bruno Alves (Rangers), Cedric Soares (Southampton), Jose Fonte (Dalian Yifang), Mario Rui (Napoli), Pepe (Besiktas), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund), Ricardo Pereira (Porto), Ruben Dias (Benfica)