Ronaldo returns to Portugal for European qualifiers
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo is back on Portugal’s national soccer team for the first time since the World Cup.
Ronaldo was included in coach Fernando Santos’ team Friday for upcoming matches against Ukraine and Serbia, its first qualifiers for the European Championship.
They will be the 34-year-old Ronaldo’s first games for his country since the World Cup in June, and since he was accused of rape in the United States. He has denied any wrongdoing.
“Cristiano is the best player in the world who is returning to his team,” Santos said. “He makes any team better.”
Portugal will play Ukraine on March 22 and Serbia on March 25 in Lisbon.
Ronaldo is Europe’s leading international scorer with 85 goals for Portugal. He is also Portugal’s most experienced player with 154 appearances.
Ronaldo’s last game for Portugal was a 2-1 loss to Uruguay in the last 16 of the World Cup. Without him, Portugal had three wins and three draws and reached the final phase of the UEFA Nations League, which will be held in June in Portugal.
Since his last appearance for Portugal, Ronaldo has moved from Real Madrid to Juventus. He scored a hat trick to help Juventus reach the Champions League quarterfinals with a 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.
Portugal won the 2016 European Championship despite Ronaldo getting injured during the final against France.
“We want to defend our title,” Santos said.
Goalkeepers: Rui Patricio (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Beto (Goztepe), Jose Sa (Olympiakos)
Defenders: Joao Cancelo (Juventus), Nelson Semedo (Barcelona), Jose Fonte (Lille), Pepe (Porto), Ruben Dias (Benfica), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund), Mario Rui (Napoli)
Midfielders: Danilo Pereira (Porto), Ruben Neves (Wolverhampton Wanderers), William Carvalho (Real Betis), Bruno Fernandes (Sporting Lisbon), Joao Mario (Inter Milan), Joa Moutinho (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Pizzi (Benfica)
Forwards: Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Joao Felix (Benfica), Goncalo Guedes (Valencia), Rafa Silva (Benfica), Andre Silva (Sevilla), Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus), Diogo Jota (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Dyego Sousa (Braga)