June 21 (TNS): Cristiano Ronaldo remains “extremely concentrated” on helping Portugal deliver the required result when they tackle Confederations Cup hosts Russia in Moscow, according to coach Fernando Santos.
The Real Madrid star has taken centre stage amid accusations of tax fraud and fresh transfer speculation which overshadowed the Euro 2016 winners’ opening Group A match in Kazan, where a stoppage-time header from defender Hector Moreno earned Mexico a 2-2 draw.
Despite the 32-year-old being under more scrutiny than usual playing for his country after it emerged on Friday he wants to quit the Santiago Bernabeu and leave Spain as a result of an investigation into his tax affairs, which the player contests and looks set to appear in a Madrid court on July 31.
Santos, though, insists the continuing furore is not about to impact on the focus of Portugal’s captain.
“I’m going to answer in Portuguese and I tell you that tomorrow we have a very important game. All the players are concentrated and Cristiano Ronaldo is extremely concentrated with the Russian game tomorrow, which we will play,” Santos said at a press conference, where he was asked to address Ronaldo’s situation and reply in English.
Defender Pepe also faced the media in the official FIFA press conference ahead of Wednesday’s match.
The 34-year-old, who is out of contract at Real Madrid and has been linked with a free transfer to Paris St Germain, sees no reason why Ronaldo should not again be relied upon to lead his country.
“We are professionals. We are just thinking about doing our best in the Confederations Cup and to go as far as we can in this tournament,” Pepe said when asked whether the situation over Portugal’s talisman had impacted on the group.
“It is the first time Portugal plays in it, so it is a privilege for us all to be here.
“And as for Cristiano, he is one player who is completely motivated to help Portugal, as he has always done.”
Krasnodar striker Fedor Smolov maintains Russia must not let themselves get fixated on how to nullify Ronaldo as they look to deliver the required performance in front of their own demanding fans at the home of Spartak Moscow.
“It is very difficult to build a team when you have such an individual among you, because everything revolves around him,” Smolov said.
“Portugal has many great players including Cristiano, so everybody understands it is not going to be easy.
“However, I hope the full stadium there to support us will be a source of strength and I am sure that together we can achieve a good result.”
Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov, however, is not interested in whether the hype around Ronaldo and where he may be playing club football next season will impact on events at the Otkrytiye Arena.
“If somebody is influenced by something else (other than football), then who knows?” he said.
“We are better talking about our own squad and football, all the rest can be published by other media.”
Santos, meanwhile, is expecting his squad to be tested by the hosts, who are in a strong position to qualify from Group A having beaten New Zealand in the tournament’s opening match on Saturday.
“There are no easy games, all national team games are difficult. There are no easy opponents, all games are complicated, so I expect my team to bring home the bacon at the right time,” he said.
“Don’t forget that most of these players here were part of the most brilliant history in Portuguese history just a year ago (at the European Championships), we should not forget that and so I trust them 100%.” Courtesy ESPN