Portugal hopes to count on Ronaldo to lead new generation
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — At 33, Cristiano Ronaldo must surely be nearing the end with Portugal's national team.
He's not saying, though.
"Now it's not the time to talk about the future," Ronaldo said after Portugal's 2-1 loss to Uruguay at the World Cup. "I'm sure the national team will remain as one of the best in the world. We have great players, a fantastic group, with young players, with great ambition to win and that's why I'm confident and I'm happy, because I know the national team will always be giving its best."
Ronaldo helped Portugal win its first major trophy two years ago at the European Championship. That run ended in the round of 16 at the World Cup, with Ronaldo again failing to score for his country in the knockout round of the tournament.
Ronaldo will be 35 by the next European Championship, and 37 by the next World Cup in Qatar.
"The national team will keep winning," he said after Saturday's match.
Ronaldo had a great start at the tournament in Russia, scoring four goals in two matches, but he was held scoreless in the next two games as Portugal lost first place in its group and eventually was eliminated by Uruguay.
In his fourth World Cup, Ronaldo couldn't hide his frustration late in the match in Sochi, furiously complaining with the referee after a non-call for a foul that could have given Portugal a last chance to equalize.
He was a lot calmer after the match, politely shaking the referee's hand and smiling as he slowly walked past reporters without taking any questions.
"This is football. Whoever scores more goals wins," Ronaldo said. "That's why Uruguay has to be congratulated."
Portugal coach Fernando Santos expected Ronaldo to keep contributing to the national team.
"Cristiano still has a lot to give to football," Santos said. "We already have a new competition in September (UEFA Nations League) and obviously we want Cristiano to be with us. He can help the younger players with his knowledge. We have a team with a lot of young players, so it's important that our captain remains with us."
Portugal hasn't reached the World Cup quarterfinals since 2006, when a young Ronaldo led the team to the semifinals and an eventual fourth-place finish.
For the tournament in Russia, Santos brought 13 players from the Euro 2016 squad, including nine of the players who started in the final against France.
Portugal had an average age of 27 in Russia, with nine players over 30, including many of the starters. Among the youngsters expected to keep Portugal contending are midfielder Bernardo Silva and forwards Andre Silva, Goncalo Guedes and Gelson Martins, who are all 23 or younger. The team's youngest players were Guedes and defender Ruben Dias, both at 21.
With or without Ronaldo, Portugal will return to the field on Sept. 10, when it will make its Nations League against Italy.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni