European champion Portugal is not only about Ronaldo
ABS-CBN Sports on Jun 26, 2017 12:44 AM
Portugal's Andre Silva, left, celebrates with teammates Joao Moutinho and Pepe after scoring his side's third goal during the Confederations Cup, Group A soccer match between New Zealand and Portugal, at the St. Petersburg Stadium, Russia, Saturday, June 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
TALES AZZONI, AP Sports Writer
KAZAN, Russia (AP) — He may be a great player, but Portugal is not just Cristiano Ronaldo. A whole array of players has driven the team to the top of European football.
The great Ronaldo has scored twice in his three matches at the Confederations Cup, continuing his run with the national team and helping Portugal advance to the semifinals of the World Cup warm-up tournament as the Group A winner.
He had found the net in every game with Portugal this season until being deprived in the Confederations Cup opener against Mexico last week, when he was still decisive by setting up Ricardo Quaresma's opening goal.
Here is a look at some of the other players who have been helping Portugal succeed:
You either love him or hate him. A clever defender with a mean streak, Portugal's defense is anchored on Pepe, the Real Madrid central defender who has been at the heart of the team's back line for the past decade.
Along with veteran Bruno Alves, Pepe has been key in Portugal's style which has long relied on a solid defensive set up that allows Ronaldo the freedom to thrive in the attack.
The 34-year-old Pepe, on his way out of Real Madrid, was voted the man of the match when Portugal defeated host France 1-0 in the final of the 2016 European Championship. On Saturday, however, he let himself down with an unprovoked and unnecessary foul that earned him a yellow card and will keep him out of the semifinal.
The veteran forward has always worked well as Ronaldo's partner up front, helping create scoring opportunities and being precise with his finishing in front of the goal.
When Ronaldo made a great run that attracted the entire Mexican defense toward him in the Confederations Cup opener, Quaresma found space and didn't waste the opportunity to give Portugal an important opening goal.
The 33-year-old Quaresma has also been important when Portugal doesn't have possession, vigorously marshaling the back line.
Nani is another experienced forward who has been invaluable for Portugal since joining the squad after the 2006 World Cup.
The former Manchester United player continues to be highly productive in attack and defense thanks to his hard work on and off the ball.
He scored one of Portugal's goals in the 4-0 win over New Zealand on Saturday.
He is responsible for carrying the load for Portugal in the midfield, but is also talented enough to provide some spark to the attack from time to time.
Moutinho is crucial to keep the team well balanced, and he is versatile enough to play in nearly all positions if needed.
The 30-year-old Monaco player made his 100th international appearance with Portugal in the team's win over New Zealand on Saturday. He has been a regular with the national team for more than a decade.
Some talented youngsters have also been important for Portugal recently, giving hope that the team can continue to succeed even after the most experienced players begin being replaced in the not-so-distant future.
Midfielder Bernardo Silva, 22, has just joined Manchester City, while left back Raphael Guerreiro, 23, is already a regular with Borussia Dortmund.
Forward Andre Silva, 21, is the team's leading scorer this season after Ronaldo, and recently was praised by the Real Madrid player. Forward Gelson Martins, 22, is also touted as a promising star.
Bayern Munich midfielder Renato Sanches, 19, didn't make it to the Confederations Cup squad but is also expected to be part of Portugal's future.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni
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