Football: Portugal without Ronaldo for Mexico play-off

Ronaldo heads the ball during the semi-final against Chile.
Ronaldo heads the ball during the semi-final against Chile.PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (AFP) – European champions Portugal will have to make do without captain Cristiano Ronaldo as they seek the consolation of a third-place finish in Sunday’s (July 2) Confederations Cup play-off against Mexico.

The Real Madrid star was excused from the squad for the game in Moscow following Wednesday’s penalty shoot-out defeat to Chile in the semi-finals, returning home to meet his newborn twins.

The 32-year-old, who already has a seven-year-old son, Cristiano Ronaldo Jnr, from a previous relationship, is believed to have fathered the twins with a surrogate mother in the United States.

“We knew he was having family matters at home,” Portugal manager Fernando Santos told a news conference on Saturday.

“Obviously it was an important moment in his life to have these children, whom he hasn’t seen yet.

“And as we failed to reach the final here the president of our football federation and I decided that it would be a nice gesture to give him a chance to be with his family.”

Portugal are often accused of relying heavily on Ronaldo, but they won their first major title without their talisman as he went off injured early in last year’s 1-0 extra-time win over France in the Euro 2016 final.

Borussia Dortmund’s Raphael Guerreiro is also missing for Portugal through injury, but veteran defender Pepe returns after he was suspended for the Chile clash.

“It will be a game with the same commitment and the same willingness to win from both sides, I believe,” said Santos.

“None of us wanted to play this game as our main goal was to reach the final. But as we failed to get that result we have to be motivated for Sunday’s encounter.

“We have the same objective as we have had in the last two and a half years – to play for the win in every game.”

Mexico’s Hector Moreno headed a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw with Portugal in the group stage, and though the European champions have kept a clean sheet in all three games since, Santos is well aware of the threat posed by the Gold Cup holders.

“Mexico had an excellent tournament in the group stage, and even in the game against Germany they looked a very dynamic team that always tries to win the game they’re playing.

“They’re a team with a lot of determination. But I hope that tomorrow my team will be able to score while not conceding any goals, unlike in our first meeting here.”

Mexico, appearing at their seventh Confederations Cup, are hoping to restore pride after Thursday’s 4-1 semi-final defeat against world champions Germany.

“For us it means a lot to be here and to play such a match,” said Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio, whose team quickly move on to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which gets underway in the United States next weekend.

“It’s an opportunity to grow for us, to gain experience. And don’t forget that we’re going to play against the reigning European champions.

“And I continue to believe that that it’s a great opportunity for Mexican football to compete against one of the best teams in the world.” Osorio added that, even in the absence of Ronaldo, Portugal remain very strong opponents.

“Obviously, when they have Ronaldo they’re even better but I’m sure that they will remain competitive and it will be very difficult to beat them,” he said.

Mexico, who won the tournament in 1999, have fallen behind in each of their four matches in Russia. They will welcome back captain Andres Guardado, who was banned for the Germany game.