Ronaldo is still key to team: Santos

Portugal's Andre Silva and Italy's Giorgio Chiellini in a tussle for the ball during their Nations League Group 3 match in Milan on Saturday.
Portugal's Andre Silva and Italy's Giorgio Chiellini in a tussle for the ball during their Nations League Group 3 match in Milan on Saturday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Portugal coach shrugs off star's absence after Italy draw seals spot in Nations League Finals

MILAN • Portugal coach Fernando Santos revelled in his side's "really satisfying" progression to the Nations League semi-finals after their goal-less draw with Italy at the San Siro on Saturday.

The European champions became the first team to do so - despite the absence of captain and star man Cristiano Ronaldo - and qualified with one match to play, with Santos delighted that his team managed to navigate their way through a "very difficult match".

"To be present in the final phase of this competition is always important for Portugal; shows the quality of Portuguese football," he told reporters. "It's fair, with much more suffering than I expected. The first half was very difficult, we had a lot of difficulty adapting, mainly to the defensive actions."

Although their final game against Poland in Guimaraes tomorrow is nothing more than a dead rubber match - the opposition have already been relegated to League B - Santos still wants his side to put on a good showing in front of the expectant home fans.

"The final match against Poland will be important because it will be in front of our supporters, who are always with us. We have to have a great match and to win," he added.

Santos also touched on the omission of Ronaldo, who is on a break from international football, and claimed the forward was still an integral part of the national set-up.

"There are no questions to ask. Ronaldo is part of this team, just read the post he wrote," said Santos, referring to his Twitter post to wish his teammates good luck.

Italy end second in the group after Roberto Mancini's men failed to find the win to keep their hopes of advancing to the final four of the tournament, which will take place next June, alive.

Despite pushing Portugal for over an hour in front of a 73,000-strong crowd, Italy could not find a way through and there were shades of deja vu, with the stalemate echoing the play-off result against Sweden last year, when they also could not break the deadlock and failed to reach the World Cup in Russia.

The Portuguese had beaten Italy 1-0 in Lisbon in the reverse fixture in September and withstood early pressure from the hosts, who were led out by skipper Giorgio Chiellini on his 100th appearance, with Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile both going close in the first half.

But the away side grew into the game after the break and carved out opportunities of their own as William Carvalho was denied by Gianluigi Donnarumma while substitute Joao Mario fired over the bar.

And Mancini bemoaned Italy's inability to take their chances despite their "domination" although he was comforted by the signs of progress he had seen after the Azzurri maintained their record of never having been beaten at AC Milan and Inter Milan's home ground.

"We played an excellent match but didn't manage to score, which is an important detail," the former Manchester City boss, who was appointed in May, said.

"Even if we're disappointed at not winning, we have everything and, little by little, we're going to also put the attack into place."

Chiellini, whose side will play a friendly against the United States in Belgium tomorrow, concurred with his manager, saying: "We've got the foundations, the issue of not scoring goals will improve with time."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2018, with the headline 'Ronaldo is still key to team: Santos'. Print Edition | Subscribe