Marseille: Portugal coach Fernando Santos shrugged off suggestions Cristiano Ronaldo will be weighed down by the burden of his country’s hopes in their Euro 2016 quarter-final with Poland on Thursday.
At 31 Ronaldo is unlikely to have a better chance to finally land a major tournament with Portugal. The winners in Marseille would face Real Madrid teammate Gareth Bale’s Wales or Belgium in the last four.
The three-time world player of the year has had an up and down tournament in France. He scored twice against Hungary to save Portugal from an embarrassing group stage exit and became the first player to ever score in four different Euro finals in the process.
However, he has failed to hit top form in front of goal and missed a penalty in a 0-0 stalemate with Austria.
“Everybody is talking about him and there is a reason for that…he is an amazing player,” Santos said on the eve of the Poland clash.
“People only talk a lot about the great players. There are hundreds of players that we don’t talk about every day.
“It is a natural thing some are mentioned more than others because they are amazing players. Ronaldo knows how to deal with that.”
Portugal have reached the last eight without winning a game in 90 minutes. They were the only side to get through the group stage with three draws and then edged a dire last 16 tie with Croatia 1-0 thanks to Ricardo Quaresma’s header three minutes from the end of extra-time.
Ronaldo’s only shot on goal against the Croats led to the goal as Danijel Subasic parried his effort into the path of Quaresma.
In his previous three games Ronaldo had 29 shots on goal, but Portugal put on a defensive masterclass to shut out Croatia and Santos admitted he has to find a balance between defence and feeding his star man.
“We want to strike a balance of course. We would rather he (Ronaldo) shot on goal 15 times and scored 10 goals (a game), but our opponents won’t let us.
“In all our matches we try and strike a balance and every player plays his role. That is what we have to do tomorrow.”
The tie has been billed as a shootout between Ronaldo and Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, who is yet to score in four games at Euro 2016.
Portugal midfielder Adrien Silva refuted the criticism aimed at Ronaldo for his wayward displays against Iceland and Austria in the group games.
“It is well-known that Ronaldo is very important for the national team, there is no point beating around the bush,” said Silva.
“Cristiano is here with us, he has been in form, he is our captain and an amazing player. We should focus on the fact he is here with us.”
One Portuguese player who has been in fine form despite his limited opportunities in Lewandowski’s new Bayern teammate Renato Sanches.
The 18-year-old showed why the German giants paid Benfica 35 million euros ($38 million) for his services as he came off the bench to win man-of-the-match against Croatia.
However, Santos resisted calls for Sanches to start for the first time in the tournament.
“The Portuguese team is one of the few teams that have five players who were at the Euro under-21 championship and one at the under-19 (in 2015) in Renato so they can also be in Brazil at the Olympics.
“They have fewer matches behind them, but as time progresses they come into their own.
“He (Renato) only started working with us in March. He is still growing and it is up to me to analyse and decide if he can be useful for the team.”
Portugal are considered one of the strongest teams at the Rio Olympics in August.