Richard Buxton: Ronaldo set for a dismal summer
Santos' insistence on familiarity rather than form doesn't bode well for star player's World Cup hopes
Maybe a World Cup without Cristiano Ronaldo would have not been such a bad idea after all.
The Ballon d'Or holder's absence from this summer's tournament was previously considered inconceivable and even a borderline travesty for the image of football worldwide.
Hindsight suggests that it may have actually proved a saving grace.
Portugal's captain is most likely to end what could be his final international tournament in the same fashion that his first began in tears and surrounded by the embers of failure.
He will again cut a frustrated figure, continually let down by playing alongside teammates who are incapable of matching the lofty standards which Real Madrid's talisman often attains.
Crashing to a 3-0 friendly defeat by Holland yesterday morning (Singapore time) reaffirmed the predicament which confronts the Portuguese as they prepare for the Finals.
Russia in the summer will be no country for old men, and Portugal have an abundance of them. Ten of Fernando Santos' 24-man squad in Geneva are over the age of 30, as were over a third of the 21 players called up to the national side in the past 12 months.
Portugal's problem with seniority boils down to their leadership both on and off the pitch.
Only seven coaches at this year's World Cup will be older than 63-year-old Santos, but he remains five years younger than the combined age of his two appointed lieutenants.
Ronaldo turned 33 last month while vice-captain Pepe is now 35. Only injury prevented the latter taking the number of ageing players involved against Holland to 11.
Age is not the sole factor in Santos' refusal to break with Portugal's triumph at Euro 2016. He chose 14 of the players that had triumphed in France for the ensuing humiliation at the Stade de Geneve, with familiarity rather than form driving several of those selections.
Jose Fonte, formerly with West Ham, is now happier to settle for a semi-leisurely existence with Dalian Yifang in the Chinese Super League, having been last tested by genuine rigours in the EPL over five months ago.
Others still plying their trade in Europe also failed to merit worthwhile inclusions.
Perseverance with Andre Gomes, despite the midfielder admitting to a miserable existence at Barcelona, ahead of Manchester City's high-flying Bernardo Silva exposed Santos' inability to end a chapter of Portuguese football which should have long closed.
But the spotlight of scrutiny invariably will again fall on Ronaldo as Lionel Messi appears destined to be yet another dot in his peripheral vision.
The battle between the game's generational greats threatens to become an uneven contest this summer again.
The variety of Messi's supporting cast further exposes the susceptibility of Portugal's old guard; where the Argentina talisman can call upon the likes of Paulo Dybala and Sergio Aguero in moment of adversity, a 34-year-old Ricardo Quaresma remains Ronaldo's sole outlet.
Prior to events in Geneva, he had not failed to register a shot on target for club or country in a game this season.
The pressure of surpassing Ferenc Puskas as Europe's leading all-time international goal scorer appears to have taken its toll on a player obsessed with perfection.
Humiliation on the world stage would be an unholy end for Ronaldo's international career.
Portugal's long-standing complacency threatens to make it an inevitability.