London (AFP) – Portugal’s friendly game with England on Thursday is an opportunity for the team to demonstrate that they can prosper without absent talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, coach Fernando Santos said on Wednesday.
Ronaldo, Portugal’s captain and all-time leading scorer with 56 goals, will miss the Wembley encounter as he is resting following his involvement in Real Madrid’s Champions League final victory over Atletico Madrid in Milan last Saturday.
It deprives Santos of his most potent attacking weapon, but he called on the other players in his squad to step up to the plate in their penultimate warm-up game ahead of Euro 2016.
“Of course Cristiano Ronaldo is very important for Portugal, but he’d be important for any team in the world,” Santos told a press conference at Wembley.
“I hope he can play in all seven games in France (assuming Portugal reach the final), but we need to be able to play without him and tomorrow is a chance to practise that.”
In Ronaldo’s absence, his former Manchester United team-mate Nani is expected to adopt an advanced role against Roy Hodgson’s England, with Sporting Lisbon’s Joao Mario and Rafa Silva of Sporting Braga providing support.
Ronaldo could return in Portugal’s game against Estonia in Lisbon next Thursday, after which the squad will travel to France, where they face Iceland, Austria and Hungary in Group F.
The last time the teams met — Portugal winning on penalties in the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup — former England stalwarts like John Terry, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were all on the losing side.
The new team is built around an exciting young generation led by Tottenham Hotspur trio Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier and while Santos believes it is too soon to compare them to the greats of yesteryear, he says that they are capable of going all the way in France.
“I’ve seen England play,” he said. “They have talented players, but we can’t compare the current players to players in the past like Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton.
“England has a big ambition and they can compete with any other team. They are one of the favourites and they can win the Euro, for sure.”
The one English survivor from the 2006 defeat in Gelsenkirchen is captain Wayne Rooney, who was sent off for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho.
Now 30, Rooney was used in a withdrawn role by Manchester United over the season’s closing months, but Santos says that he can be dangerous wherever he plays.
“Of course Rooney is important for England. But it’s up to Roy Hodgson where he plays, not me,” said the former Greece coach.
“He can be dangerous from near or far from the goal. It’s not so important where he plays.”
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