Rested Ronaldo increases Portugal's hopes

June 12, 2018
Cristiano Ronaldo

Portugal have received assistance from Real Madrid in its quest for a first World Cup title, even though they play 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 will not make it to Russia.

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 semi-finals and final at Euro 2016.

The reserves will be Anthony Lopes and Beto, with Benfica's Bruno Varela as a reserve option.


Veterans Pepe in in central defence


Just like at every major tournament since Euro 2008, expect to see veterans Pepe and Bruno Alves in command in central defence.

Cedric Soares is preferred at right back, with Borussia Dortmund defender Raphael Guerreiro likely on the left.

Jose Fonte and Ruben Dias will be Santos' main replacement options in the middle of the defence.

Joao Mario and William Carvalho are expected to anchor the midfield again, with 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. He also didn't call up Andre Gomes, who had a disappointing season with Barcelona.

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