Cristiano Ronaldo leads Portugal squad searching for first World Cup, Latest Football News - The New Paper

Cristiano Ronaldo leads Portugal squad searching for first World Cup

OEIRAS, Portugal - Cristiano Ronaldo will lead Portugal at the World Cup after Fernando Santos named the veteran forward in his 26-man squad on Thursday.

The Manchester United striker, 37, has not been first choice for his club this season but will be part of his country’s bid to win the tournament for the first time in their history.

Ronaldo, the captain and all-time leading scorer in men’s international football with 117 goals, has plenty of younger team-mates in support in attack, including Atletico Madrid’s Joao Felix and AC Milan’s Rafael Leao.

Santos also included uncapped 19-year-old centre-back Antonio Silva and 21-year-old striker Goncalo Ramos, the top scorer in the Portuguese top flight.

The duo have both impressed this season for Portuguese table toppers Benfica, who are unbeaten so far in all competitions and qualified from their Champions League group ahead of Paris St Germain.

Silva has been one of Europe’s breakout players this season after forcing his way into Benfica’s starting team after injuries to Morato and Lucas Verissimo.

In-form Ramos has helped Benfica fans quickly forget former forward Darwin Nunez, who joined Liverpool in the close season, scoring 12 goals in all competitions, with coach Santos choosing him over Wolves forward Goncalo Guedes.

“We have a team capable of winning it all, that is what this group is capable of,” Santos told a news conference in Lisbon on Thursday.

“The players are hungry and will give it all to make Portugal the world champions.

“Our list was based on the players’ qualities and potential, on what each one of them can offer to our system.”

Ronaldo will go to his fifth World Cup, having played for his country in every edition of the tournament from 2006 onwards.

Santos said he is not worried about criticism aimed at the superstar, whose struggles at Manchester United this season have raised questions about whether his brilliant career is nearing its end.

“If we talk about momentum, Ronaldo has played the last four games with his club,” Santos said. “So I’m not concerned. We’ll try to understand the best ways to boost all the players in our system, including Ronaldo.”

The United forward issued a rallying cry on social media after his selection.

“Once again we are ready to uplift the name of Portugal! There are 26 names in coach Fernando Santos’ list, but we are all called upon. Let’s go, Portugal!” Ronaldo wrote on his Instagram account.

Santos, who led Portugal to Euro 2016 glory in France, also left PSG midfielder Renato Sanches out of the squad, bringing Wolves midfielder Matheus Nunes instead.

“What is most important are the players who will go to the World Cup,” said Santos, refusing to discuss players who did not make the cut. “The 26 (selected) think that justice has been done, and those who don’t go, the opposite.”

He has called up uncapped Benfica centre-back Antonio Silva, 19, as well as 39-year-old Pepe.

The Porto defender has not played since Oct 4 because of a knee sprain but will be fit for the tournament in Qatar, which starts on Nov 20.

“I asked my medical department if there were any unfit players, the answer was no,” said Santos when asked about Pepe.

Liverpool striker Diogo Jota misses out because of a calf injury.

Wolves midfielder Joao Moutinho, 36, who has appeared for his country 146 times, more than any other player apart from Ronaldo, was not included too.

Portugal open their World Cup campaign in Group H against Ghana on Nov 24, before facing Uruguay on Nov 28 and South Korea on Dec 2.

Santos was critical of the timing of the tournament, the first-ever winter World Cup, but was happy about the lack of travel involved at the tournament, with all the stadiums relatively close together.

“It’s not good for clubs, it’s not good for anyone,” said Santos.

“The exception is that it’s good for travel. I’ve participated in several World Cups and travelling between games was difficult.

“In this aspect, there’s an advantage. No stadium is more than 25 minutes away. We don’t have to walk around carrying everything. It won’t wear us down, the game ends and we go back to the hotel.” - AFP, REUTERS

Full squad:

Goalkeepers: Diogo Costa (Porto), Rui Patricio (Roma/ITA), Jose Sa (Wolverhampton/ENG)

Defenders: Diogo Dalot (Manchester United/ENG), Joao Cancelo (Manchester City/ENG), Danilo Pereira (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA), Pepe (Porto), Ruben Dias (Manchester City/ENG), Antonio Silva (Benfica), Nuno Mendes (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund/GER)

Midfielders: Ruben Neves (Wolverhampton/ENG), Joao Palhinha (Fulham/ENG), William Carvalho (Real Betis/ESP), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United/ENG), Vitinha (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA), Otavio (Porto), Joao Mario (Benfica), Matheus Nunes (Wolverhampton/ENG), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City/ENG)

Forwards: Rafael Leao (AC Milan/ITA), Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid/ESP), Ricardo Horta (Braga), Goncalo Ramos (Benfica), Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United/ENG), Andre Silva (RB Leipzig/GER).

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