May 25, 2016 / 2:41 AM / 3 years ago

Ageing but dangerous, Portugal are still a threat

LISBON (Reuters) - They may be over dependent on Cristiano Ronaldo and struggling to replace old faithfuls, yet under the wily leadership of Fernando Santos, Portugal can still be a threat.

UEFA European Championship 2016 - Portugal training session - Oeiras, Portugal - 23/05/16. Portugal's coach Fernando Santos speaks with his players. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

Semi-finalists four years ago, Portugal suffered a miserable first-round exit at the World Cup in 2014 and followed that up by losing at home to Albania in their opening qualifier for Euro 2016.

Tempestuous coach Paulo Bento, who had steadfastly refused to replace Portugal’s old guard, was sacked and replaced by Fernando Santos, who made an instant impact as Portugal reeled off seven successive wins in the Euro qualifiers, all by single-goal margins, to steer themselves safely to France.

Santos has found the rebuilding process as difficult as his predecessor and has also relied heavily on more experienced players, even recalling veteran central defender Ricardo Carvalho, who will be 38 when the competition gets underway in France.

At least there has been a willingness to give the new generation a chance.

More than 50 players have been called up under Santos who has given 17 their full international debuts and fielded 33 players in the qualifiers.

His boldness to experiment has paid off, unveiling highly promising players such as winger Bernardo Silva and midfielders William Carvalho and Joao Mario.

Possibly the most exciting of all is 18-year-old Renato Sanches, who has just signed for Bayern Munich from Benfica months after making his professional debut.

Portugal’s biggest failure is their inability to convert chances into goals with former Manchester United winger Nani, who remains a regular at international level, one of the main culprits.

In the end, however, everything still revolves around Ronaldo, who is often criticised for failing to reproduce his best form for Portugal even though he is their all-time leading scorer.

Reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Neil Robinson

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