Portugal boss Fernando Santos defended Cristiano Ronaldo following his controversial comments in the aftermath of the 1-1 Euro 2016 draw with Iceland and questioned the conduct of Lars Lagerback and his side.
Ronaldo accused the competition debutants of showing a “small mentality” on account of their tactics and celebrations at the final whistle after Birkir Bjarnason cancelled out Nani’s first-half opener in Saint-Etienne.
Lagerback and his players did not miss out on the opportunity for fun at the expense of the disgruntled Real Madrid superstar
“I guess he’s just irritated because he didn’t win against Iceland, who are only 330,000 [people],” said Lagerback, but Santos suggested the veteran former Sweden coach should get his own house in order when addressing the issue ahead of Portugal’s next Group F encounter with Austria on Saturday.
“When people talk about fair play sometimes it make me want to laugh because when we talk about other people and other people’s reactions… in Portugal we normally say if you don’t feel [emotions] you’re not really a good person,” he said, before accusing Iceland’s bench of heckling Ronaldo’s Madrid team-mate Pepe.
“After what the Iceland manager [Lars Lagerback] said and what their players did for 90 minutes… their fans booed Pepe and Ronaldo and their players on the bench kept heckling Pepe.
“We have our feelings and sometimes people will respond in a very emotional way.”
Santos professed his affinity for fair play – a possible deciding factor for UEFA if any of the third-place teams in contention for a spot in the last-16 are tied on points, goal difference and goals scored – but felt Ronaldo was fully entitled to respond as he did.
“You should always have fair play and I have always played fair, even in this pre-match press conference I made no comments about the statements and about the provocations [from Iceland],” he explained.
“But what I stressed here is I don’t think you should bring up fair play after other people have shown their lack of fair play.
“In terms of yellow cards we have been exemplary and we will carry on that way. Ronaldo is one of 23 players.”
Despite trying to diffuse the controversy by placing Ronaldo among his collective, Santos could not hold his tongue when asked how important the three-time Ballon d’Or winner was to Portugal’s Euro 2016 prospects.
“Ronaldo is the best player in the world, what else can I say? He is the best player in the world – how relevant do you think he is?” he added.
“I respect your questions and I understand this is your job as a journalist but he’s the best player in the world. This is how relevant he is.”
Ronaldo is expected to lead the Portugal attack alongside Nani once more against Austria and Santos rejected suggestions that his captain is shackled by being selected in a centre-forward role.
“I watch every Real Madrid match very attentively. [Karim] Benzema was away and who played in his position? Cristiano.
“He can play in any position. He is not a striker. He needs to be free.
“If we watch Real Madrid, he will start over to the left but during the match he can be anywhere. He is a free player and he is not tied down to any one position. That’s the way it should be.”