Italy coach Roberto Mancini is “very sorry” Cristiano Ronaldo will not be involved when Portugal visit San Siro in the Nations League on Saturday.
Ronaldo has not featured for his country since the World Cup, with coach Fernando Santos and the country’s Football Federation affording him a break.
It remains unclear as to when Juventus star Ronaldo will return to action for Portugal and he is unlikely to feature before March, though his self-imposed exile could continue later into 2019.
Nevertheless, the European champions have prospered in Ronaldo’s absence, recording three wins and a draw in the four matches they have played since an underwhelming last-16 World Cup exit to Uruguay.
They go into the game with Italy top of League A Group 3, though the focus still remains on their absent talisman.
“Cristiano is one of the best players in the world,” Mancini told reporters at his pre-match news conference. “For sure with him on the pitch it would be a different game because he has unique skills.
— Italy (@azzurri) November 16, 2018
“But Portugal have other extraordinary players in the offensive phase. I believe it will be a spectacular game even without Cristiano Ronaldo, though we would have liked to face him.
“I think with him on the pitch it would have been even more spectacular. We are very sorry he is not playing tomorrow [Saturday].”
Nevertheless, Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini – who lines up at Juventus alongside Ronaldo – insists the Azzurri will not be altering their outlook, adamant Portugal have plenty of other weapons in their arsenal.
“For us, it [Ronaldo’s absence] won’t change anything in terms of our approach,” the centre-back added.
“It’s clear that Cristiano Ronaldo would be decisive for any team. He is the best player in the world and therefore you cannot say Portugal are the same team without him.
“But Portugal is a good team and they showed they can play and win games even without Cristiano Ronaldo.
“In the Euro 2016 final, even though he was missing, they beat France. They are a very good team and it won’t be easy for us.”
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