Cristiano Ronaldo still very much part of Portugal team, insists coach Fernando Santos

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Portugal coach Fernando Santos insisted Saturday that superstar Cristiano Ronaldo remains a key part of his national team despite being left out of his Nations League squad, after the European champions became the first team to advance to the semi-finals of the competition.

“There are no questions to ask. Ronaldo is part of this team, just read the post he wrote today,” said Santos, referring to the message the Juventus player sent to wish his teammates good luck via Twitter.

Portugal booked their ticket to the semi-finals next June after holding Italy to a 0-0 draw at the San Siro on Saturday.

They progressed top of Group A3 with one match to play, dashing Italy’s hopes in the process.

“The qualification confirms the quality of our football,” said Santos.

“I thought it would be a great match and instead especially in the first half we had a lot of difficulties.

“After the break I explained to them what was happening, and the game became more balanced.”

Portugal host relegated Poland in three days in Guimaraes, in a match that has no significance for either side.

But Santos insisted: “The final match against Poland will be important because it will be on front of our public, who are always with us.

“We have to play well and to win.”

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Harry Kane has sights set on Wayne Rooney's England record

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Harry Kane believes he can break Wayne Rooney’s England goalscoring record and is ready to end his barren international run in the familiar surroundings of Wembley on Sunday.

The Three Lions captain has not scored for his country in his last seven appearances – but still managed to collect the Golden Boot as England made it to the World Cup semi-finals in the summer.

Rooney bid farewell to international football in Thursday’s 3-0 friendly win against the United States, ending his record-breaking England career with 53 goals from his 120 caps.

Kane, 25, has amassed 19 goals so far and will be looking to get back on the scoresheet in England’s winner-takes-all Nations League clash with Croatia.

He has already been backed by Rooney to one day eclipse his own achievements and now the Tottenham forward has admitted it is something he is targeting in the long term.

“It is definitely possible,” Kane said when asked about breaking Rooney’s feat.

“It is still a fair bit away, I don’t like to set my targets that far ahead in the future because a lot can happen.

“We will see over the years how many goals I have got. Hopefully I will still be fit and healthy and getting selected by the manager.

“It is achievable but not something I’m thinking about too much right now.”

Kane missed a great chance to put England 2-0 ahead in their World Cup semi-final defeat to Croatia.

Victory over the same opponents on Sunday would see Gareth Southgate’s side progress into the last four of the inaugural Nations League.

Kane has become accustomed to playing big games at Wembley, with his Tottenham side using the national stadium as their home while delays on their new ground continue.

He feels playing Champions League football there, alongside England colleagues Harry Winks, Eric Dier and Dele Alli, can only help heading into the game against Croatia.

“We’re comfortable with the surroundings there,” he replied when asked if it can be an advantage.

“I don’t think it affects the game too much. But I know where the Wembley goal is. Hopefully I can try and find it tomorrow.

“I’ve had a bit of experience of big games at Wembley with Spurs, in the Champions League with 80,000 people on the side and singing.

“I want to feel that feeling with England tomorrow night. That will definitely be the case if we win the game. I’m excited for it. I’m looking forward to it.

“We know it’s an important and big game for us. We’ve got to show we’ve come a little bit further from the World Cup and show what we can do.”

Although he failed to score in the memorable 3-2 Nations League win against Spain in Seville last month, Kane earned plenty of plaudits for his selfless display.

The Spanish media were particularly impressed – with Marca labelling Kane as ‘a classic striker who is good at absolutely everything’.

Kane explained that, courtesy of his father, he has those press clippings to hand to one day share with his family.

“It was one of my favourite performances in an England shirt, 100 per cent,” he added.

“It was a victory I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life.

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UEFA Nations League: Gareth Southgate expects England v Croatia thriller

Simon Peach 18/11/2018
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Gareth Southgate is expecting a thrilling clash as ever-improving England look to overcome World Cup semi-final foes Croatia and reach the inaugural Nations League Finals.

Wembley will play host to the countries’ third meeting in just 130 days in a fascinating winner-takes-all encounter on Sunday.

Victory secures progress to next summer’s Nations League Finals and a semi-final spot, while the defeated side will be relegated from the top tier after an exciting first edition of the previously derided competition.

A full house will greet the sides for the Group A4 finale, when England have the chance to exact revenge for the extra-time 2-1 defeat to Croatia in July’s World Cup semi-final.

“We’ve obviously played them twice in the last few months and we know their style of play, we know their preferences, the areas that they build up,” Southgate said, having overseen a 0-0 draw behind closed door in Rijeka last month.

“We know areas that we think we can try to exploit and it’s two really evenly matchws teams. Both games after 90 minutes have been draws. I think there’s been periods in both of those matches where each team has the upper hand.

“We have got to put all the things together tomorrow and make sure we back up the last few performances, which have been really healthy, and finish the calendar year from an England perspective on a high.”

This has certainly been a year to cherish for England, who reached the World Cup semi-finals for just the third time and are reaping the rewards of Southgate’s trust in youth.

“I think we’ve learned with every experience we’ve had,” the former defender said when reflecting on the changes since the semi-final loss to Croatia.

“We’ve added more depth to the squad, in terms of some more young players emerging, more competition for places. We’ve had a slight change of system, which has also had something different, so we have some flexibility in how we can play, so we’re always improving.

“I think in those five matches that you’ve seen since the summer, what we haven’t done is sat on our laurels and said ‘OK, we’re happy with what he did at the World Cup and that’s it for the year and we’ll look forward to the European Championships’.

“We’ve wanted to keep improving and I think the players have shown that mentality as well.”

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