LYON: Portugal could be without key defender Pepe for their Euro 2016 semi-final with Wales on Wednesday after the Real Madrid stopper did not take part in training on Tuesday.
Pepe has been an ever-present for Portugal during the tournament and losing his know-how in handling club teammate Gareth Bale would be a huge blow to Fernando Santos’s side.
However, Pepe has struggled with a muscle problem since earning special praise from Santos for his stellar display in Portugal’s quarter-final win over Poland.
“I am not going to answer (whether Pepe will play). I will sleep calmly tonight because I have other players who can play,” Santos said on the eve of the game at the Stade de Lyon.
“If he is 100 percent he will be in the starting XI for tomorrow, but all the players have to be 100 percent and we will not be rushed into it.”
Should Pepe not make it, 38-year-old Ricardo Carvalho is likely to be handed the task of stopping the rampant Bale, who has scored three times in the competition to carry Wales to their first ever semi-final in a major competition.
Bale will go head-to-head with another Madrid teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo with personal pride and glory on the line. The winner would be favourite to take the Ballon d’Or after both played a major role in Real’s Champions League win in May.
However, Santos shot down suggestions that would be on either players’ mind.
“The players all have the same goal and it is not just about Cristiano and Bale. All players want to go as far as possible,” he said.
“We are not playing for the Ballon d’Or, we are playing to be in the final. That is more important for the team.”
Portugal have progressed to the last four despite not winning a game in 90 minutes in France.
Three draws in the group stage saw Santos’s men squeeze through as one of the best third-placed sides.
Ricardo Quaresma struck a 117th minute winner to beat Croatia 1-0 in extra-time in the last 16 before Portugal needed penalties to see off Poland in the quarter-finals.
Santos, though, insisted he does not care about the critics as long as Portugal reach the final against France or Germany in Paris on Sunday.
“When they talk about the way we play that is music to my ears.
“I don’t care. I want to make it to the final and that’s all that matters.”
Santos was also riled when asked about the age of wonder kid midfielder Renato Sanches.
Sanches became the youngest player to score in the knockout stages of the Euros at 18 with his strike against Poland in the quarter-finals.
However, veteran French coach Guy Roux became the latest sceptical voice to question whether Sanches really is just 18 on Tuesday.
“Everybody knows Renato Sanches was born in Portugal, not any other place. He is 18, just like I am 61,” said Santos.
“There is no doubt about it.”