Portugal boss Fernando Santos insists his team’s bid for World Cup glory will not be derailed by the Cristiano Ronaldo crisis.
Santos, the coach who guided his nation to glory at Euro 2016, is bullish about lifting the ultimate prize in Qatar despite Ronaldo’s acrimonious departure from Manchester United just 48 hours before the first group game against Ghana.
The 68-year-old did admit that having a swathe of out-of-contract players in his squad did damage Portugal's chances at the 2018 tournament in Russia. But he is backing Ronaldo to be fully focused on the chance of having his finest hour rather than what the future may after his contract at Old Trafford was cancelled.
Santos said: “The situation with Ronaldo hasn’t even been discussed during all of our time together as a squad. The conversation hasn’t come up - not even from Ronaldo. Whether he talks to the other players in the privacy of their rooms, I cannot say. They are able to do whatever they want then.
“I will say that in 2018 we had six or seven players who went to Russia without a club or involved in contact talks - and that shifted the focus. But that was a really different situation from now. It was extremely challenging.”
Santos has set his sights on seeing Ronaldo lift the trophy on December 18 - but insisted his priority is to make the Portuguese people happy.
He added: “I am not saying we are the best team in the world, but we have a high-quality team with great players. We have the dream, we have the vision - and we have the capability to fight.
“Of course I have the ambition to win the World Cup - but the most important thing is to make the Portuguese people happy with our football.”
Ghana coach Otto Addo and skipper Andre Ayew were very careful not to get drawn into the Ronaldo saga at the pre-match press conference.
“I couldn’t care less,” said Addo when asked whether Ronaldo’s departure from Old Trafford would motivate the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
“I agree with the boss,” added former Swansea and West Ham forward Ayew. But Mohammed Kudus, the 22-year-old Ajax midfielder who was devastated to miss out on a summer move to Everton in the summer, can’t wait to see his hero in the flesh.
Kudus said: “I think it will be a great moment to share the same pitch with an iconic player like Ronaldo. We all look up to him and watched him on TV so it will be a great experience.”
Scouts from Italian giants AC Milan and Juventus have sent scouts to Qatar with a brief to watch Kudos, who added: “I was really close to joining Everton.
“I spoke to Frank Lampard. I had a chat with him to know the project they have for me, what he thinks about me and how he sees me as a player. I thought it was a good project for me. I felt I should try it but in the end Ajax would not listen.”