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European champions Portugal suddenly look shaky

European champions less than two years ago, Portugal are suddenly looking shaky in the run-up to the World Cup with key players suffering a dip in form and a central defence showing its age.

Coach Fernando Santos admitted before this month's friendlies against Egypt and Netherlands that, compared to Euro 2016, it was proving much more difficult to finalise his squad for this year's tournament in Russia.

Monday's 3-0 drubbing by a Dutch team who failed to qualify for the World Cup would not have brought him any comfort, although it might have helped to decide who to leave out.

One thing abundantly clear was that Portugal still need Pepe in the central defence.

The makeshift pairing of Rolando and Jose Fonte, also into their 30s, were all at sea as Portugal shipped three goals in 35 first-half minutes.

Santos had hoped to give 20-year-old Ruben Dias his international debut but the Benfica defender pulled out due to injury. Bruno Alves, the other main option who played in Friday’s 2-1 win over Egypt, is 36.

One of Santos's biggest headaches is that many of his key players at Euro 2016 have lost their way at club level.

Renato Sanches has suffered the most dramatic fall from grace. The dread-locked midfielder barely got a look-in after joining Bayern Munich in 2016 and has spent this season on loan at Swansea City where injuries and lack of form have badly affected his confidence.

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