Soccer: Portugal still cautious, efficient and dependent on Ronaldo
By Brian Homewood
(Reuters) - European champions Portugal can be expected to be cautious, efficient and dependent on Cristiano Ronaldo at the World Cup, and they will be making no apologies for that.
With the likes of Ricardo Quaresma, Bernardo Silva, Nani, Joao Moutinho, and Goncalo Guedes to call on -- not to mention the five-times world player of the year -- there is no shortage of flair in the squad.
But proudly pragmatic coach Fernando Santos prefers efficiency to entertainment and with only one defeat in 24 competitive matches since he took over in September 2014, not to mention the Euro 2016 title in the bag, he makes a persuasive case.
"You can only win the European championship and the World Cup by playing well. The concept of what is pretty or not is something else," he told Reuters in an interview earlier this year.
At Euro 2016, his charges they drew all three group stage matches, beat Croatia in extra-time, squeezed past Poland on penalties and finally overcame Wales and France.
After beginning their qualifying campaign for Russia with a 2-0 defeat in Switzerland, but they ground out nine successive wins to finish top of their group on goal difference, beating the Swiss by the same score in their final game.
Fifteen of their goals came from Ronaldo who will be competing in his fourth and, at the age of 33, possibly final World Cup.
Portugal remain hugely depended on the Madeira-born forward, who is their most capped player, with 145 appearances, and their record scorer with 79 goals.
With his insistence on taking every free kick and penalty, and his often angry reactions when team mates fail to pass him the ball, Ronaldo is can appear to be a burden for his team. But statistics suggest otherwise.
Since he made his international debut in 2003, Portugal have reached two European championship finals, one semi-final, one quarter-final and a World Cup semi-final, a remarkable performance for a relatively small country.
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by John Stonestreet)