Portugal back with Martinez as coach, Ronaldo in squad
LISBON, Portugal (AP):
It's a new era for Portugal as they begin European Championship qualifying under a new coach and with Cristiano Ronaldo far away from football's biggest stadiums.
Portugal start their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign at home against Liechtenstein in Group J today, with Roberto Martinez debuting as coach and Ronaldo still in the squad.
"It was all in the balance after the World Cup," Ronaldo said yesterday. "I reflected with my family, and then we came to the conclusion that it was not time to throw in the towel. I learned a lot from it and I'm very happy to be back. The coach says he wants me in the squad. I feel that I still have a lot to give, and I want to keep it going."
It will be Ronaldo's first appearance with Portugal since leaving Europe for Saudi club Al Nassr after a disappointing stint with Manchester United. He is set to break the all-time record of appearances with a national team after tying Bader Al-Mutawa's mark of 196 outings for Kuwait during last year's World Cup.
"Records are always positive," Ronaldo said. "They are my motivation. I like to break records, and this record is special. I'll be really proud if it happens, but I want to keep playing even more games, I don't want to stop here."
Martinez is taking over from Fernando Santos, who quit in December after Portugal's elimination by Morocco in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Santos left amid the controversy of benching Ronaldo in the knockout stage of the tournament in Qatar.
Martinez ended his six-year stint with Belgium after their disappointing group-stage elimination at the World Cup. He arrived pledging to respect Ronaldo's history with the national team and said Ronaldo would be among the team captains.
"I am surprised by the level of commitment of the players to the national team," Martinez said. "Everyone can play. We are starting a new cycle, and we want the best. Ronaldo is part of the best, and we need his experience."
In addition to Ronaldo, Martinez will inherit a squad filled with talented players such as Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota, Goncalo Ramos and Joao Felix. The coach made few changes to the squad, with 40-year-old defender Pepe also returning to play alongside the 38-year-old Ronaldo.