2022 World Cup: Portugal's brilliant XI without Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo is Portugal’s greatest ever player, of that there can be no doubt whatsoever.

Eusebio and Luis Figo were both magnificent footballers in their pomp, but neither of them are in Ronaldo’s league truth be told.

The 37-year-old is the record scorer in the history of men’s international football with 117 goals and he’s also won two trophies with Portugal – Euro 2016 and the inaugural UEFA Nations League.

But while Ronaldo’s achievements in the modern game are virtually unrivalled, all good things must come to an end.

On Tuesday evening, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner started in Portugal’s 1-0 defeat to Spain and his overall performance was anything but world-class.

Ronaldo was fairly anonymous throughout the game and when he was presented with chances to score, the former Real Madrid man simply couldn’t deliver the goods under pressure.

Given that Ronaldo is also warming Manchester United‘s bench at present, it’s perhaps time for Portugal manager Fernando Santos to make the biggest of calls and drop his main man from the starting XI.

If he were do so and use him as a super-sub instead, ‘A Selecao’ would still be able to field an XI we think looks more than capable of going a long, long way at the Qatar World Cup.

Here’s the Portugal team we’ve selected…

GK – Rui Patricio

Diogo Costa was given the gloves against Spain on Tuesday, but Patricio should be reinstated Portugal’s World Cup opener against Ghana on November 24th.

Rui Patricio gives a thumbs up
LISBON, PORTUGAL – JUNE 05: Rui Patricio of Portugal reacts during the UEFA Nations League League A Group 2 match between Portugal and Switzerland at Estadio Jose Alvalade on June 05, 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)

RB – Joao Cancelo

A no-brainer. Cancelo is arguably the best full-back in the world right now and can even operate on the left-hand side to a ridiculously high standard if required.

CB – Ruben Dias

Another bona fide superstar. Dias is Portugal’s only real high-quality option at centre-back, though. If the Manchester City man misses the World Cup through injury, you fear for the nation as a whole.

Ruben Dias heads a ball away
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC – SEPTEMBER 24: Ruben Dias of Portugal in action during the UEFA Nations League League A Group 2 match between Czech Republic and Portugal at Fortuna Arena on September 24, 2022 in Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo by Thomas Eisenhuth/Getty Images)

CB – Danilo Pereira

This is why Dias’ fitness is so crucial. Portugal aren’t blessed with depth at centre-back, so Danilo regularly deputises in the role over the likes of Tiago Djalo. The position could be the nation’s one weak link in Qatar…

LB – Nuno Mendes

Left-back certainly won’t be a problem area, though. In Mendes, Portugal have one of the most exciting defenders in world football and the fact the Paris Saint-Germain star is still only 20 years of age is quite scary.

Nuno Mendes battles with Ferran Torres
Soccer Football – UEFA Nations League – Group B – Portugal v Spain – Estadio Municipal de Braga, Braga, Portugal – September 27, 2022 Spain’s Ferran Torres in action with Portugal’s Nuno Mendes REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

CDM – Ruben Neves

William Carvalho and Joao Pahlinha are both potential candidates to operate at the base of Portugal’s midfield, but we’ve gone with Neves, because we just can’t resist that passing range and long-distance shooting.

CM – Vitinha

Vitinha has transformed PSG’s midfield since signing from FC Porto in the summer, so he – very deservedly in our opinion – gets the nod over Matheus Nunes and Joao Mario.

Vitinha on the ball for Portugal
LISBON, PORTUGAL – JUNE 09: Vitinha of Portugal makes a pass whilst under pressure from Michal Sadilek of Czech Republic during the UEFA Nations League League A Group 2 match between Portugal and Czech Republic at Estadio Jose Alvalade on June 09, 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)

CM – Bruno Fernandes

Fernandes’ dazzling displays in a midfield three at United under Erik ten Hag must be delighting Portugal fans. In Ronaldo’s absence, Fernandes can assume the role of the country’s talismanic leader.

RW – Bernardo Silva

If anyone suggests a Portugal XI for the World Cup without Silva, they’re completely mad. Like his City teammates Cancelo and Dias, Silva is a truly world-class footballer and would get into most – if not all – current international sides.

Bernardo Silva in action with Portugal
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC – SEPTEMBER 24: Bernardo Silva of Portugal in action during the UEFA Nations League League A Group 2 match between Czech Republic and Portugal at Fortuna Arena on September 24, 2022 in Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo by Thomas Eisenhuth/Getty Images)

ST – Diogo Jota

Jota over Ronaldo and Joao Felix? Slightly controversial, we know. But when the Liverpool man is on it, he is one of the deadliest strikers in the business, one capable of scoring all types of goals.

LW – Rafael Leao

Leao has to start at the World Cup for Portugal, it’s as simple as that really. The gangly winger has been electric at AC Milan over the past 12 months or so. In 2022, he’s scored 12 goals and assisted a further 15, a ridiculous return.

Portugal's potential World Cup XI
Portugal’s potential World Cup XI

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