Fernando Santos admits Portugal miss Cristiano Ronaldo but says his focus is solely on the pressing matter of reaching the Nations League Finals.
Juventus star Ronaldo is not expected to feature at international level until March at the earliest, although it appears his self-imposed exile could continue later into 2019.
The European champions, who underwhelmed in a last-16 exit at the World Cup, have performed well in their captain’s absence, compiling a four-game unbeaten run.
Either a point away to Italy or home win over Poland would be enough to top Group 3 in Nations League A following recent victories over both opponents.
Portugal’s head coach, however, has not forgotten Ronaldo’s worth, the in-form attacker having struck eight times in Serie A this season.
“There’s no team that could say they don’t want to have Cristiano Ronaldo,” Santos said.
“He is always important, he’s the best player in the world, and that’s all, that’s enough.
“I hope his huge talent and his title of being the best in the world can be reflected by him winning next Ballon d’Or.”
108 – Cristiano #Ronaldo has been directly involved in 108 Juventus shots in Serie A so far (88 shots, 20 chances created), at least 28 shots more than any other player in the top-5 European Leagues 2018/19. Boss. pic.twitter.com/AFzkrQPA3V
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) November 12, 2018
On the prospect of Ronaldo returning in March, Santos added: “We’ll see. We’re still very far from this.
“We now have to focus on this great match, Italy against Portugal, which hopefully will come with a win for Portugal.”
The Azzurri enter the match with renewed confidence following Roberto Mancini’s first competitive victory in charge last month, a 1-0 defeat of Poland.
Santos praised his counterpart’s work and drew comparisons between their playing styles, rejecting the view that Portugal have favoured a defensive attitude during his tenure.
“We’re not a counter-attacking team, we’ve never been like this,” the former Greece boss said.
“We know how difficult it is [to beat Italy] and we’re prepared for it. At this moment, both teams have a similar style of football, so it’ll be a great match.”
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