LISBON (Reuters) - Manchester United winger Nani has been left out of Portugal’s squad for the decisive World Cup Group F qualifiers against Israel and Azerbaijan after picking up a hamstring injury in Sunday’s FA Cup clash with Chelsea.
Coach Paulo Bento handed a debut call-up on Thursday to 27-year old Wolfsburg winger Vieirinha in a 23-man squad that will play in Tel Aviv on Friday, March 22, and then in Baku four days later.
Bento brushed aside concerns about the physical condition of captain Cristiano Ronaldo when asked if he was concerned about reports the forward had a sugar low during Real Madrid’s 2-1 win against Celta Vigo on Sunday.
“I guess I can ask the national squad doctor to bring along some extra sugar packages,” the good-humoured coach told reporters.
“But I am not worried. He is in a good moment and we hope he will help us get to our goal.”
Portugal are in dire need of their captain’s heroics as they lag third in the group, level on seven points from four games with second-placed Israel but five adrift of group leaders Russia.
Ronaldo netted the goal that sent Real Madrid through to the last eight of the Champions League against Manchester United and grabbed a double at Celta Vigo to take his league tally for the season to 26 goals.
Portugal have failed to win their last four matches. In the last, they succumbed to a painful 3-2 defeat in a friendly against Ecuador in Guimaraes in February.
“We cannot get caught up on the past and what happened in the last four matches. This (Israel) is an important one although getting to first place in the group no longer depends solely on us,” said Bento.
Goalkeepers: Rui Patricio (Sporting), Eduardo (Istanbul BB), Beto (Sevilla).
Defenders: Joao Pereira (Valencia), Bruno Alves (Zenit St Petersburg), Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid), Silvio (Deportivo la Coruna), Pepe (Real Madrid), Luis Neto (Zenit St Petersburg), Sereno (Valladolid).
Midfielders: Raul Meireles (Fenerbahce), Miguel Veloso (Dynamo Kiev), Joao Moutinho (Porto), Custodio (Braga), Carlos Martins (Benfica), Paulo Machado (Olympiakos).
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Danny (Zenit St Petersburg), Silvestre Varela (Porto), Vieirinha (Wolfsburg), Pizzi (Deportivo la Coruna), Helder Postiga (Zaragoza), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas).
Editing by Alan Baldwin