Santos: Ronaldo still part of Portugal team, Latest Football News - The New Paper

Santos: Ronaldo still part of Portugal team

European champions qualify for Nations League semis after draw with Italy

Portugal coach Fernando Santos insisted yesterday morning (Singapore time) that superstar Cristiano Ronaldo remains a key part of his national team despite being left out of his Nations League squad, after the European champions became the first team to reach the semi-finals of the competition.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner spent much of last month vehemently denying allegations of rape and was dropped by Santos for the Nations League internationals amid accusations by former model Kathryn Mayorga that Ronaldo raped her in 2009, just before he joined Real Madrid from Manchester United.

"There are no questions to ask. Ronaldo is part of this team, just read the post he wrote today," said Santos, referring to the message the Juventus player sent to wish his teammates good luck via Twitter.

Portugal booked their ticket to the semi-finals next June after holding Italy to a 0-0 draw at the San Siro yesterday.

They progressed top of Group A3 with one match to play, dashing Italy's hopes in the process.

"The qualification confirms the quality of our football," said Santos.

"It's really satisfying to reach the final phase of this competition. I thought it would be a great match and instead, especially in the first half, we had a lot of difficulties.

"After the break, I explained to them what was happening and the game became more balanced."

Portugal host relegated Poland on Wednesday in Guimaraes, in a match that has no significance for either side.

But Santos insisted: "The final match against Poland will be important because it will be on front of our supporters, who are always with us. We have to play well and win."

Santos' side had beaten Italy 1-0 in Lisbon and withstood early pressure from the hosts with Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile both going close in the first half. Portugal threatened after the break as William Carvalho was denied by Gianluigi Donnarumma and substitute Joao Mario fired over the bar.

Last November, Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 60 years after being held by Sweden at the same stadium in Milan.

"We played an excellent match, but we didn't manage to score which is an important detail," said Italy coach Roberto Mancini.

"We dominated Portugal and then had a drop in tempo after 70 minutes, which is only to be expected, as we can't play in their half for 90 minutes.

"Even if we're disappointed at not winning, we have everything and little by little we're going to also put the attack into place," added Mancini after Italy maintained their record of never having been beaten at the San Siro.

Italy captain Giorgio Chiellini celebrated his 100th Italy cap, exactly 14 years to the day since his debut against Finland.

"We're on the right path, as we controlled it for 70 minutes with a lot of great play and chances, but we must make more of our scoring opportunities," said the Juve defender.

"We worked so hard and then in the final half-hour we were exhausted, which took away sharpness and meant we were risky at the back.

"We've got the foundations, we dominated the reigning European champions and the issue of not scoring goals will improve with time."

Italy play a friendly against the United States in Genk, Belgium, on Wednesday morning. - AFP