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Football: Portugal cannot rely solely on Ronaldo

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo (right) and his national team-mates visiting the Belem Palace in Lisbon before their departure for the Euro 2016 Finals in France. All eyes will be on the Real Madrid forward, but Portugal will need the entire team to perform
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo (right) and his national team-mates visiting the Belem Palace in Lisbon before their departure for the Euro 2016 Finals in France. All eyes will be on the Real Madrid forward, but Portugal will need the entire team to perform if they are to repeat their 2004 showing of reaching the final. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Coach says his talisman, who can become the first to score at 4 tournaments, needs help from team-mates

PARIS • Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal tower over their rivals and should ease into the knockout stages at Euro 2016, but the illustrious team cannot underestimate a blossoming Austria side.

Ranked eighth in the world, Portugal cruised to a sixth straight appearance at the Finals - in Group F along with Austria, Hungary and Iceland - by reeling off seven straight qualifying wins after an opening defeat by Albania.

But 12 years after losing the Euro 2004 final to Greece on home soil, Ronaldo's hopes of landing an international title appear remote unless his supporting cast can deliver where they have failed in the past.

Portugal lost on penalties to Spain in the semi-finals at Euro 2012 and then crashed out in the group stage of the World Cup in Brazil.

The Real Madrid forward, slowed by a knee injury, was then a shadow of the player who won that year's Ballon d'Or.

"If he is so important in (Real) Madrid, just imagine he's the same if not more so with Portugal," coach Fernando Santos told Spanish sports daily Marca. "When you have a player who scores 50 or 60 goals a season, and can always score, they are vitally important.

"But Cristiano can't win alone. He needs help from the others. But, for sure, he's more important for us than he is for Madrid."

  • Group Preview F

  • June 15, midnight (S'pore time)
    Austria v Hungary


    June 15, 3am Portugal v Iceland


    June 19, midnight Iceland v Hungary


    June 19, 3am Portugal v Austria


    June 23, midnight Hungary v Portugal


    June 23, midnight Iceland v Austria

The Portuguese have always advanced beyond the group stage at a European Championship and Ronaldo will fancy his chances of becoming the first player to score at four editions.

But Santos admitted that Ronaldo is unlikely to be fully fit in France, although he shrugged off any genuine concerns about his skipper.

"They always talk about players having to arrive at 100 per cent, but it's never the reality," said Santos. "The ideal thing would be for him to be at his best, but I would never leave out a Cristiano at 80 per cent."

Austria flew under the radar as they topped their qualifying group ahead of Russia and Sweden, with Marcel Koller's men participating in the Finals for just the second time, having co-hosted the 2008 event.

They broke into the world's top 10 for the first time in November and in versatile Bayern Munich star David Alaba, they possess one of Europe's most coveted players.

But the 23-year-old also has the likes of Marko Arnautovic, Zlatko Junuzovic and skipper Christian Fuchs to help ease the burden.

Austria, ranked above England, Italy and France, have the potential to finish far higher than the side that exited with just a single point on their debut appearance.

"We did very well in qualifying and we've been enjoying more and more success in recent years and have constantly improved," Alaba told bundesliga.com. "Our biggest strength, though, is the collective and it's this which sets us apart. We want to get even better and we certainly are no longer a team who need to have any fear."

Iceland - with a population of 330,000 - became the smallest nation to qualify for the Finals after twice beating 1988 European champions the Netherlands and pipping Turkey to one of two automatic qualifying spots.

Swansea City midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson supplied a team-leading six goals and the Nordic side will use the experience of former Sweden coach Lars Lagerback and ex-Chelsea and Barcelona striker Eidur Gudjohnsen, now 37, as they plot further surprises.

Hungary returned to a major tournament for the first time since the 1986 World Cup, beating Norway 3-1 on aggregate in the play-offs. But the current generation is a far cry from the 1950s Ferenc Puskas-inspired Magical Magyars.

The Hungarians lack genuine star quality but goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly, 40, is poised to become the oldest player in tournament history - eclipsing the record set by Germany's Lothar Matthaus, who was 39 years and 91 days at Euro 2000.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2016, with the headline 'Portugal cannot rely solely on Ronaldo'. Print Edition | Subscribe