Portugal coach Fernando Santos on Thursday said captain Cristiano Ronaldo is not a certainty against Asian giants South Korea when the two teams clash in the last match of the group stage at Education City Stadium today.
Group H points leaders Portugal are under no pressure to include Ronaldo, 37, who missed training on Wednesday. Portugal, the 2016 Euro champions, have six points after wins over Ghana and Uruguay.
“I think it is 50-50 if he plays the match or not. We will see how it goes,” Santos said at a news conference yesterday. “It will depend on if and how he feels during practice. If we see he is in good condition, maybe he will play the match. There is a plan for if he is not available,” Santos added.
Ronaldo spent the day recovering at a gym where the backroom staff is trying to get the Portugal captain ready for the Round of 16 at the 32-team tournament. Later in the evening, Ronaldo was in seen doing light training.
The Portugal camp yesterday also confirmed that Nuno Mendes’ Qatar campaign has ended following a thigh injury the PSG star sustained in their match against Uruguay.
When asked about Mendes’ injury, Santos said yesterday: “He will continue to stay in Qatar, because the player wanted it. PSG allowed him to stay here with us at the World Cup. This reflects the spirit of the team and how united we all are.”
Raphael Guerreiro, the Borussia Dortmund full-back, is likely to replace Mendes as he did against Uruguay.
With Otavio and Danilo also out injured, Santos said he expects the players in the reserves to step up against South Korea.
“I have complete confidence in all my players,” Santos said. “I’m already missing three players, let’s see about others. Playing every four days is tough, players get tired and are experiencing fatigue.
“Fatigue leads to stress and stress leads to injuries.
“We want to win and finish top in our group because this will gives us an extra day to recover the players in the best way possible,” Santos said.
South Africa’s Portuguese coach Paulo Bento yesterday said a dedicated performance his players against Portugal.
“We played our first two matches with a lot of passion. We will have to show that passion again (against Portugal).
“But we’ll also need a bit of luck. If we have all that, we can create a miracle,” Bento said yesterday. Bento candidly admitted that Portugal – who are ranked 9 in the world – are a force even without Ronaldo or the absent injured players. South Korea are aiming to qualify for the Round of 16 for the third time after 2002 and 2010.
“He (Portugal coach) can play in different ways, with different formations, he can make three or four changes in his team and they will stay at the same level,” Bento explained. “In addition, the context is favourable for them because they are already qualified and a draw will ensure first place,” Bento added.
Bento, who played for Portugal 35 times, will not be available for his side following a red card he picked up in the match against Ghana. Bento said: “They (the assistants) make most of the decisions, they suggest them to me. It’s not going to be a problem. This time they will be on their own but it won’t change much. The players are also in line with the technical staff.”
South Korean defender Kim Young-gwon said facing Portugal would be a tough challenge. He said: “They have all these talented players.”
He added: “To contain them we’ll have to play as a team, as one unit. We don’t have anywhere else to go than forward.”
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