'Portugal strong even without world's number one Ronaldo' - Santos praises squad depth after Italy win

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The Juventus striker is still his country's most important player, but Fernando Santos believes they are in a position to cope without him

Fernando Santos believes Portugal will be a different prospect with the return of Cristiano Ronaldo, but says his side will be stronger in the long term for having more options.

Juventus star Ronaldo was absent during the international window, choosing to rest up having played the World Cup and with the domestic season set to truly kick into gear with the return of the Champions League.

In the absence of their talisman, Portugal registered a 1-1 friendly draw against Croatia before starting their Nations League campaign with a 1-0 win over Italy on Monday.

Andre Silva was the difference maker in Lisbon and head coach Santos, while eagerly anticipating the return of his leading marksman, is happy with how his team stepped up without Ronaldo.

"I think my team gets stronger with the best in the world [Ronaldo]. Obviously. We will always be strong with the world's number one," he said. 

"But he was not there. Therefore, I think the players who have been called up took advantage of the opportunity to play here, knowing the great confidence I had in them. 

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"They tried to do their best in training and games, they followed our ideas and that is good for Portuguese football. Well, Portuguese football is stronger with more options.

"I believe in this team, if we are in a favourable position, it is because we have more options and we can go further. I believe in this team and I always believed."

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