WORLD CUP: Portugal’s hopes aided by extra rest for Ronaldo
Portugal has received assistance from Real Madrid in its quest for a first World Cup title, even though it plays Spain in the opening game.
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 were not called up for the recent friendlies.
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 are likely to 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.
Cedric Soares is preferred at right back, with Borussia Dortmund defender Raphael Guerreiro on the left.
Fabio Coentrao, who didn’t make the Euro 2016 team, returned to the squad recently before missing March friendlies because of injury. Barcelona’s Nelson Semedo and Napoli’s Mario Rui will remain as backup fullback options.
Joao Mario and William Carvalho are expected to anchor the midfield again, with Andre Gomes, Adrien Silva and Joao Moutinho fighting for a spot as attacking midfielders along with Bernardo Silva.
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.
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 26-year-old Andre Dias, who made his tournament debut last year at the Confederations Cup when Portugal finished third.
Gelson Martins and Goncalo Guedes have drifted in and out of the team in the last two years, while Ricardo Quaresma has not played since October.
Nani and Eder, whose goal in extra time sealed the Euro 2016 victory over France, are unlikely to make the trip to Russia.
Portugal opens against Spain on June 15 and then plays Morocco on June 20 in Moscow, where the team is based. The Group B schedule will conclude against Iran on June 25.
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