LISBON • Fernando Santos will cherish the memories of Portugal's Euro 2016 triumph, the country's first major trophy, but sentiment did not stop him from wielding the axe in naming his final 23 for the World Cup Finals.
Nearly half of Portugal's victorious 2016 squad will miss the trip to Russia after the national coach made what he termed as "extremely difficult decisions".
"It was extremely difficult to choose the 23 (players). As a professional, I have to make decisions and I know that I'm not going to please everyone," Santos told a news conference on Thursday.
"But on the personal side, it hurts me to leave out players who took part in the (2016) European championship, and others who took part in the qualifiers and helped the team get this far.
"It was, of course, difficult to leave out Eder, Nani and others who wrote the most brilliant page in the history of Portuguese football. But I have to pick the ones who best complete the jigsaw.
"I can't say whether this squad is stronger than the one which played at the Euros. But I have absolute confidence in this squad just as I did in the other one."
It was extremely difficult to choose the 23... I know that I'm not going to please everyone.
FERNANDO SANTOS, Portugal coach, on how he had no choice but to axe certain players to finalise a 23-man squad.
Forwards Eder, who scored the winning goal in the Euro 2016 final against France, and Nani, Portugal's third most-capped player with 112 appearances, were among 10 players from that team omitted from Santos' list.
Eder had been out of form for his club side Lokomotiv Moscow, scoring only four goals in the Russian Premier League this season, while Nani played just 24 matches all term with Italian Serie A side Lazio.
Other surprise absentees included midfielders Andre Gomes, Danilo Pereira and Renato Sanches, and defender Eliseu.
Santos instead opted for the relative youthfulness of Andre Silva, 22, and Goncalo Guedes, 21, to play alongside star man Cristiano Ronaldo in attack, while 21-year-old Benfica defender Ruben Dias also received his first call-up.
Midfielders Ruben Neves and Rony Lopes were, however, unfortunate not to have been chosen after breakthrough seasons for Wolverhampton Wanderers and Monaco respectively.
Ronaldo, Portugal's all-time leading scorer and most-capped player with 81 goals in 149 appearances, headed the list for the European champions, who face 2010 champions Spain, Morocco and Iran in a tricky Group B.
Goalkeeper Rui Patricio, defenders Pepe and Bruno Alves, midfielders William Carvalho and Joao Moutinho, and forward Ricardo Quaresma were among the other stalwarts to be selected.
Before the Finals commence, Portugal will play friendlies against Tunisia, Belgium and Algeria.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS