FOOTBALL

Santos defends benching of Cristiano Ronaldo

Fernando Santos discussed his decision to start Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench for Portugal against Andorra.

Ronaldo doesn't need to score against Andorra to break record – Santos defends benching of Portugal star

Portugal head coach Fernando Santos defended his decision to start Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench against Andorra, saying the star would break the international goals record anyway.

Ronaldo came on at half-time and scored as Portugal thrashed Andorra 7-0 in a friendly in Lisbon on Wednesday.

The Juventus star moved onto 102 international goals, closing in on former Iran forward Ali Daei's men's record of 109.

Santos discussed his decision to start Ronaldo on the bench, saying it was partly because the forward was recently sidelined with coronavirus.

"When it comes to the idea that Cristiano Ronaldo must play [against Andorra] to score goals and break the record, well, Ronaldo does not need to score against Andorra to become the top scorer. He will be anyway," he told a news conference.

"Therefore, he came on as a substitute and played for long enough. It's important to understand that Ronaldo didn't play a game for 19 days during his lockdown. He's one of the players who need some minutes to get a competitive rhythm.

"I didn't think it was right to put him on early in the game. Andorra were playing in the last 20 metres of the pitch just defending and tackling. It could be dangerous for us. We must look carefully at every situation.

"Anyway, I am not sure if Ronaldo was anxious to play. Every player always wants to score goals, that's for sure."

While Ronaldo only played a half, he had more shots (seven) than any other player, while also finishing with an assist as he claimed his 100th international victory with Portugal.

Paulinho scored a brace on debut, while Pedro Neto also marked his first appearance with a goal, to go with strikes from Renato Sanches, Ronaldo and Joao Felix and an Emili Garcia own goal.

The meeting with Andorra came three days before Portugal face France in the Nations League, with both teams on 10 points in Group 3 of League A.

Santos said he would have preferred to train than face Andorra, who are ranked 145th by FIFA.

"I said before the game that I would rather train and prepare for the next game instead of playing. I believe it would have been better for us," he said.

"But I also said that given that wasn't the case, we should make the most of the game. And that means being fully focused, playing with a good attitude as we always do and it's normally difficult to do that in these types of friendlies. And the team has responded really well, just as I wanted.

"We had full control of the game, it was a solid performance and Andorra never had a chance. And that was thanks to the players, their organisation, effort and focus."