Portugal ‘can succeed without Ronaldo’

Portugal ‘can succeed without Ronaldo’

LISBON • No Cristiano Ronaldo, no problem. That was the takeaway from Wednesday’s Nations League match, as Portugal made light of their star player’s absence due to a positive Covid-19 test to see off Sweden 3-0 and stay top of their group.

A Diogo Jota brace and another strike from Bernardo Silva were enough to stay level on 10 points with France and hold on to first place in League A Group 3.

Ronaldo, who posted a photo of himself on social media watching the match on television wearing a Portugal top, was forced to leave the national team camp after returning a positive test for Covid-19 on Tuesday.

The Juventus forward returned to Italy on Wednesday to continue his self-isolation.

His Portugal teammates had few problems dealing with Sweden, who have now lost all four of their Nations League matches and are rock bottom of the group.

The Swedes are three points behind Croatia, who were beaten 2-1 by France in Zagreb.

“We are not better without Ronaldo, but the team had shown before that we’re capable of succeeding without him,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said.

“We were well-organised offensively, 3-0 is a great result. We did some very good things, then we let Sweden create a few problems for us before we regained control of the game. Sweden could have scored a goal or two, but we too could have scored more.

“This team will always be better with Cristiano, but we are still able to fight for our goals.”

Silva curled home the opener in the 21st minute thanks to unselfish play from Jota, who laid on the ball for the Manchester City midfielder instead of going for goal himself when in a promising position.

Fellow Premier League star Jota made it two just before the break when, completely unmarked, he chested down Joao Cancelo’s beautifully flighted pass and slotted home.

The new Liverpool signing then put the result beyond any doubt in the 72nd minute with a superb individual goal, weaving in from the left before drilling a low finish past Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen.

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    In 76 games with Portugal, Fernando Santos has lost just three competitive matches.

“It was an excellent night, and one of my best performances for my country,” Jota said, before adding that there was “no pressure” to replace Ronaldo.

“The coach chooses the eleven for each game. We are professionals and, if the boss chooses 11 players to enter the field, these are the ones who have to work.”

Manchester United playmaker Bruno Fernandes also said that it felt like business as usual despite not having Ronaldo on the pitch.

He said: “We were not asked to play any differently (without him), our ambition remains the same. But it is obvious that it is easier to win with the best (player) in the world.”

Meanwhile, Italy lost top spot in League A Group 1 after a 1-1 draw against the Netherlands in Bergamo.

The Azzurri had won 1-0 in Amsterdam last month but have now been held in three of their last four matches, including Sunday’s goalless draw against Poland in Gdansk.

Roberto Mancini’s side dropped to second in their group on six points, one behind the Poles, who beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-0.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE