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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Portugal continue to prove there is life without Cristiano Ronaldo after comfortable victory in Scotland

A 3-1 in at Hampden Park, with goals from Costa, Eder and Bruma continue the recent good form of the European champions

Eder celebrates scoring his fifth goal for Portugal and first since the winner in the Euro 2016 final. Reuters
Eder celebrates scoring his fifth goal for Portugal and first since the winner in the Euro 2016 final. Reuters

Remove the star and, in theory, the star vehicle should be shorn of direction. In practice, a purposeful Portugal are plotting a successful course without Cristiano Ronaldo.

A comfortable victory in Scotland extended their record since the World Cup to three wins and a draw with the runners-up in Russia, Croatia.

Hampden Park saw a familiar script with an unfamiliar face as Portugal benefited from goals from a winger or two; just not that particular one. The Wolverhampton Wanderers attacker Helder Costa marked his debut country by converting Kevin Rodrigues’ inviting cross. The previously profligate Bruma then scored an emphatic first goal for his country after a pass from the teenage replacement Gedson Fernandes.

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Both are now a mere 84 international goals behind Portugal’s absent captain, but they illustrated that a supposed one-man team can cope without the one man. Indeed, their other scorer offers historic proof of that: Eder mustered just his fifth international goal and his first since he decided Euro 2016.

Portugal won that final without Ronaldo, who limped off in the first half. They have prevailed without him again in Uefa Nations League openers against Italy and Poland. They are on course to reach next summer’s finals. They could yet hold both continental titles at the same time.

Whether their record scorer returns by then is a moot point. Ronaldo missed last month’s internationals as he acclimatised to life at Juventus. He asked to be omitted again this time, though Portugal have not clarified whether it is because of accusations he raped an American woman, Kathryn Mayorga, in Las Vegas in 2009. Ronaldo has insisted he did not.

Others did not take the field in Glasgow for rather different reasons. Fernando Santos made 10 changes; a few months ago, some of this side ranked in Portugal’s third-choice side and Cedric Soares, winning his 33rd cap, was much the most experienced starter.

The result, albeit against a depleted, out-of-form Scotland side, showed Portugal possess strength in depth, but it was also evidence of Santos’ capacity to organise a team and of his side’s winning habit.

Steven Naismith denied Portugal a clean sheet with a well-taken injury-time strike, but they had not conceded when it mattered, though Rodrigues had some difficulties against James Forrest and Sergio Oliveira flirted with an own goal.

Yet the consolation goal should offer little solace after a seventh defeat in nine games. Their difficult start to Alex McLeish’s second spell in charge continues.

With Adrien and Bernardo Silva and Ruben Neves among the rested, Portugal lacked some of their classier performers. They still fashioned fine openings. The RB Leipzig forward Bruma had spurned three chances before half-time and before eventually allying pace and power with precision.

Eder had drawn a save from Craig Gordon before he headed in a free kick taken by the substitute Renato Sanches, whose rehabilitation after a wretched season last year continues.

That improvement could be timely. Despite the cult of personality, Portugal are far more than just Ronaldo. They may need to be.