Italy v Portugal: Santos hails Ronaldo as team player despite absence

Cristiano Ronaldo's first thought is always about the team, says Portugal boss Fernando Santos, although he will be missing against Italy.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos has hailed Cristiano Ronaldo's qualities as a team player, despite the Real Madrid star missing Tuesday's friendly against Italy to reportedly take an early holiday.

Captain Ronaldo is Portugal's leading goalscorer and has played a key role in the country's run of five wins in six matches.

Indeed, in the only match Santos' men lost in that time - a 2-0 defeat to Cape Verde Islands in March - Ronaldo did not feature.

The Ballon d'Or winner highlighted his importance to the national team by scoring a hat-trick in a 3-2 Euro 2016 qualifying win against Armenia on Saturday, but has not travelled to Geneva for the meeting with Italy.

"Real Madrid is a top team in Europe and 50 per cent of their goals are scored by Cristiano Ronaldo," he said. "Big names play like this, they are fundamental for their teams and in some way the teams depend on them and the clubs accept this.

"This is normal and it happens with Ronaldo and other great players. I had this in the clubs I've managed, especially with strikers.

"However, Ronaldo always tries to show how the whole squad is important for us and this is significant.

"During training sessions and in our conversations he always reinforces other players' importance and by working with them he can give his best."

Italy may be unbeaten in nine but they have only picked up one win from their last five matches and the pressure is mounting on Antonio Conte to secure a victory.

A 1-1 draw in Croatia on Friday mirrored the result in November's reverse fixture and Italy will be keen to shake off their growing reputation as draw specialists.

"We will face a difficult match, we all know the tactical system of Italy," added Santos. "They are playing in a 4-3-3 and this is unusual for Italian teams - I mean in what we know about Italian teams from the past.

"Antonio Conte at Juventus used to play with three defenders but they are playing in a different way now and recently in a 4-3-3, as I saw the match against Croatia.

"They are very aggressive, in a good way. They try to make pressure to get the ball and are very solid in defence."

While Portugal are without Ronaldo, Italy allowed Gianluigi Buffon, Daniele De Rossi and Lorenzo De Silvestri to leave the squad over the weekend due to knee injuries of varying severity.