Cristiano Ronaldo has issued a fiery battle cry ahead of Portugal’s crucial World Cup qualifying week.
With a stunning hat-trick in Manchester United’s 3-2 Premier League win over Tottenham, the Manchester United superstar recently became FIFA’s all-time record goalscorer, and he’ll be hoping to add to that total in the coming days. However, a significant challenge awaits, as Portugal’s World Cup hopes hang precariously in the balance.
Portugal must negotiate two difficult play-off games to ensure Ronaldo attends what is likely to be his final World Cup after missing out on automatic qualification after being pipped to Group A top spot by Serbia in controversial fashion. To qualify, the Euro 2016 champions must first defeat Turkey before potentially defeating current European champions Italy.
Ronaldo issued a defiant message ahead of Portugal’s match against Turkey in Porto on Thursday, declaring that his country will “fight to put Portugal in our rightful place.” “Total focus on World Cup 2022,” the 37-year-old wrote in an impassioned Instagram post.
“As always, I am honored to represent Portugal. We know the road ahead will not be easy, and we have the utmost respect for the opponents we will face who share our goals. But, working together, we will fight to restore Portugal to its rightful place. Let’s get started.”
Portugal, on the other hand, will have to do so without a number of their senior players. Both Joao Cancelo and Renato Sanches have been suspended for the match against Turkey, and they are joined on the list of absentees by four other high-profile names.
Ruben Dias and Nelson Semedo are still out with injuries, while Ruben Neves suffered a knock in Wolves’ dramatic loss to Leeds on Friday. Portugal’s situation has deteriorated further with the news that veteran defender Pepe has also contracted Covid-19.
If Portugal defeats Turkey, a number of those names, including Pepe, are expected to be in contention for next week’s final qualifying play-off. If Roberto Mancini’s men beat North Macedonia on Thursday in Palermo, a mouth-watering match against Euro 2020 champions Italy could be on the cards.
Despite the fact that Portugal was forced to field a depleted squad, Ronaldo, who scored six goals in the group stage – more than any of his countrymen – is clearly fired up. With seven goals in four tournaments, the legendary No.7 is Portugal’s second highest goalscorer in World Cup history, trailing only the legendary Eusebio, who scored nine.
If Ronaldo qualifies for the Qatar tournament, which is set to take place in late November, he will join a select group of players who have competed in five World Cups, including Lothar Matthaus, Rafael Marquez, and Antonio Carbajal.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos emphasized the importance of the upcoming week, labeling it “the most important challenge” of his eight-year tenure, despite lifting the Euro 2016 trophy and reaching the last-16 of the 2018 World Cup. “It’s simple: we need to win; nothing else matters,” Santos said.
“This is the most important challenge I’ve had as manager of Portugal.” The most important, not the most difficult. For the sake of our people, we must compete in the World Cup. More than a month ago, the tickets were sold out in minutes. Our fans will be crucial, and we cannot let them down.”