Like Real Madrid, Portugal has to cope without Ronaldo
It’s not only Real Madrid that has to adapt to life without Cristiano Ronaldo.
Portugal’s national soccer team also has had to cope without the star forward as he takes a break from international duty following his transfer to Juventus and amid a rape allegation against him.
Ronaldo hasn’t been called up for the national team since the World Cup, and the Portuguese soccer federation has already said he also will not be considered for upcoming international matches later this year.
Portugal, which won the European Championship in 2016 for its first major title, plays at Poland on Thursday in the UEFA Nations League, its third match without Ronaldo since the World Cup tournament in Russia. The team will face Scotland in a friendly on Sunday.
“The best in the world remains the best in the world, but he is not here and we have to focus on those who are,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said Wednesday. “I fully trust the players who are here and they will come through for us.”
Santos said Ronaldo remained fully committed to the national team, after he skipped the team’s first two matches after the World Cup to rest following a busy off-season that included his move from Real Madrid to Juventus. Santos had said Ronaldo was still settling in with the Italian club and needed time to focus on that.
Last week, Santos did not give details for not including Ronaldo in the team, saying the decision was made after a three-way conversation between him, the player and the head of the Portuguese soccer federation. The squad announcement came after news that Ronaldo is dealing with a rape allegation in the United States, although Santos did not comment on the player’s state of mind nor did he say the decision had anything to do with off-the-field issues.
Santos’ problem now is how to get his team working without Ronaldo. And that’s where Andre Silva comes in.
The 22-year-old striker, considered to be the perfect wingman for Ronaldo in Portugal’s attack, has been doing just fine by himself this season. He was crucial in the team’s opening win against Italy in the Nations League last month, scoring the second-half winner that left Portugal at the top of Group 3 in League A of Europe’s newest competition.
A victory on Thursday won’t yet secure Portugal a spot in the final four of the Nations League in June, but it will keep the team from being relegated to the second-tier League B. Portugal leads Group 3 with three points, two more than both Poland and Italy. Italy has already played twice, losing at Portugal and drawing against Poland at home.
“If we win this match it will be a big step for us,” said Santos, who turned 64 on Wednesday and is about to mark his four-year anniversary with the national team. “We are very motivated to make it to the final four.”
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