Fernando Santos has described Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo as a “standard-bearer” for the country and believes he will perform in the crucial Euro 2016 match against Hungary on Tuesday.
Ronaldo has found himself in the spotlight largely for the wrong reasons so far during the European Championship, drawing criticism for his ungracious comments about Iceland and then missing a penalty in the 0-0 draw with Austria.
That result has left the powerhouse national team in danger of failing to progress to the round of 16, heaping pressure on the Real Madrid forward to score for the first time at the competition in the Group F finale at Stade de Lyon.
“The day after the first match you said he was all smiles,” Santos told a pre-match news conference when asked about the superstar’s supposedly questionable body language in training.
“I listened to the things that you said. And after the first match the story was that Cristiano was all smiles. And now the story is that he is not smiling. I’m sure he will do what he does best, which is to score. I’m sure he will do everything anxiety free.
“When we have someone who is the standard-bearer for our country and we all say that we love him and I know the Portuguese love Ronaldo, [the scrutiny is] like any other amazing figure.”
Santos also rejected suggestions moving Ronaldo away from a central role could afford him more space in which to perform.
“Well if football worked like that I would put 10 players in the box and Ronaldo outside the box,” he said.
“But football is a team sport. There is no ‘I’ in team. Of course some players can be the ones who break the deadlock. But you need a team to open the space for them. I’m glad we have people in our team who are able to do that.”
Portugal could find themselves going up against England in Nice on Monday if they finish second in the group but Santos insisted he has no special desire to tackle a country Portugal knocked out of the 2004 European Championship and the 2006 World Cup.
“I have no preference, I do not care who will be our next opponent, we [just] want there to be a next opponent,” he said.
Finally, the coach claimed he must wait to learn about the potential availability of injury doubts Raphael Guerreiro and Adrien Silva.
“They will or won’t play, it can go either way, we will see how everything develops,” he said.
“Tomorrow [Wednesday] morning or this evening I will talk to the doctors and see if they are fit or not.
“I am being entirely honest with you. I really do not know yet.”