AL RAYYAN: Speculation regarding the future of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and his outburst following his substitution against South Korea were in sharp focus on Monday ahead of their World Cup last-16 game against Switzerland.
The forward, who left Manchester United by mutual consent last month following a controversial interview, was linked with a potential move to Saudi Arabia but Portugal coach Fernando Santos said he knew nothing about it.
“I have not spoken to him about this,” Santos told a news conference ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Swiss. “I don’t know about this. It is his decision. I did not even know about this and I heard about this when I arrived here.”
Ronaldo’s future is unclear with several clubs around the world reportedly interested in signing him.
“We are focused on the World Cup. I don’t know anything about this other issue,” the coach said.
Santos had to continue answering questions about his player, however, including his outburst following his substitution in the final group match against South Korea with Ronaldo having said it was not directed at his coach but triggered by an opponent’s comment.
“Yes, I did not like it, not at all. I really did not like it and from that moment on that issue is finished,” Santos said.
The coach also refused to comment on speculation back home about whether Ronaldo would feature in his lineup against the Swiss on Tuesday or would start on the bench.
“I do not read this type of information. I am focused on my team. We are focusing on training and not paying attention to any polls,” Santos said. “What I have always done is focus on the immediate match. I am not worried if information is right or wrong.”
For Santos, what is important is Portugal reaching the last eight for the first time since 2006.
“There has been a long hiatus.... what matters is this match. Portugal always have the obligation to win,” said Santos, who has been in charge since 2014. “For us it is good to feel this pressure. We want it and we really want to win. After each game, if you win the game you are closer to being a favourite,” he added.
Meanwhile, Switzerland are also eyeing a spot in the quarter-finals for the first time since 1954, but Swiss coach Murat Yakin says making history is far from their minds.
Switzerland have not made the World Cup quarter-finals since they were the host nation 68 years ago, although there was no round-of-16 in that era.
The Swiss went out in the first knockout stage in each of the last two World Cups but Yakin says the prospect of taking on Portugal should be motivation enough for his side.
“We are aware that we are going into the game with a team that is well-prepared, that is mature,” he said. “Being able to write history will not be decisive for us. We know our opponents and have shown that we can beat them. Then maybe we can discuss the history. You can’t focus on what happened in sport. No one cares what happened anymore. Of course, expectations are growing but we fight with the players I have and the opportunities we have.”
Yakin said he has his entire squad available for selection but gave no clues as to his starting line-up. “We are ready. We have a full squad, the players who were missing are back on board. We look forward to the game. It’s a great opportunity to continue writing history. We are aware of the euphoria in Switzerland and want to give everyone another game.”
Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022