Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal will be without both Ruben Dias and Pepe for their 2022 FIFA World Cup playoff against Turkey. The news will be worrying for the side as the duo are their first-choice central defenders.
Manchester City centre-back Dias picked up a hamstring injury in the 2-0 fifth-round FA Cup win over Peterborough United, missing the Citizens' last four matches. As per the latest report from Football Insider, the centre-back has resumed training and recovery and could be back for the all-important league clash against Liverpool on 10 April.
To add to Portugal's woes, their football federation recently released a statement confirming that Pepe would miss out on the squad to face Turkey as well. The statement confirmed that the Porto defender had contracted COVID-19. It reads (as per Goal):
"Pepe tested positive for Covid-19 and will fulfill the scheduled isolation days."
The statement added that the LOSC Lille and Portugal U21 central defender Tiago Djalo has been called up for this important clash.
"Fernando Santos, National Coach, [has] called up Tiago Djalo, defender of Lille, who was at the service of the U21 National Team."
Dias and Pepe's absence will come as a body blow to Os Navegadores' chances of qualifying for this year's World Cup. The former has quickly become one of the best central defenders in Europe during his time with Manchester City. Pepe, on the other hand, is vastly experienced, having made 123 appearances for the national team. Notably, full-back Joao Cancelo is also suspended and will not be a part of the game.
Cristiano Ronaldo and co. will likely have to depend on Lille's centre-back pairing of Jose Fonte and Djalo to take them through to the next round.
Cristiano Ronaldo will have to be at his best if Portugal are to beat Turkey
With the defense in jeopardy, Portugal will need their attack to fire on all cylinders if they are to beat Turkey on 24 March. Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 18 goals in 32 matches across competitions for Manchester United this term, will lead the charge for his side.
Fernando Santos' side will also have other players to depend on, with both Diogo Jota and Joao Felix in good form for their clubs. Jota has racked up 19 goals in 39 matches in all competitions for Liverpool this season. Felix, meanwhile, comes into this match having scored four times and assisted twice in his last five La Liga matches.
The likes of Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and Nuno Mendes are also expected to play key roles. Ruben Neves and goalkeeper Anthony Lopes are set to be absent. Neves picked up an injury in the 3-2 league defeat against Leeds United while Lopes dropped out of the Portuguese camp due to injury as well.
Nevertheless, much of the focus will be on Cristiano Ronaldo. The leading goalscorer in men's international football with 115 goals in 184 games will look to step up once again on the big stage.
If Portugal beat Turkey, they will face either Euro 2020 winners Italy or North Macedonia with the winner securing their World Cup berth.