Ronaldo seals Swiss showdown

Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo making the decisive contribution of the game with the opener in the 63rd minute, having been only named as a substitute against minnows Andorra. Group B leaders Switzerland have 27 points, but Portugal can overtake
Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo making the decisive contribution of the game with the opener in the 63rd minute, having been only named as a substitute against minnows Andorra. Group B leaders Switzerland have 27 points, but Portugal can overtake them if they win their top-of-the-table clash at home tomorrow.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Portugal boss' decision to drop star to bench almost backfires before sub breaks deadlock

ANDORRA LA VELLA • Fernando Santos defended his decision to start Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench against Andorra on Saturday after the forward helped Portugal beat Andorra 2-0.

Santos said he "thought deeply" about the best way to deal with Ronaldo, who was on a yellow card and would have missed tomorrow's decisive game against group leaders Switzerland if he had picked up another.

The Real Madrid star came on at half-time with the score at 0-0 and scored the crucial first goal in the 63rd minute of the Group B clash.

It was his 15th goal of the campaign, equalling the European qualifying record set by Poland's Robert Lewandowski two days earlier.

Ronaldo then provided the cross for Andre Silva's 86th-minute goal.

The win set up a mouth-watering showdown with Switzerland in Lisbon. That match will decide who the group winners are and who have to go into the play-offs.

"I thought hard, I pondered," Santos said. "Ronaldo didn't train at 100 per cent in the two days before the game. There were lots of factors which led me to take this decision.

"It wasn't really about the risk of getting a yellow card because he's an experienced player. But these games are complicated.

"I tried to administer the situation and do what was best. Was it the right thing? We won the game and that's what matters."

Had Portugal failed to win, Switzerland would have won the group and qualified directly for Russia, leaving the European champions to go into a two-legged play-off.

Santos had warned of the difficulties of facing Andorra, a physical, defensive side who play on an artificial pitch, which was in poor condition for Saturday's game.

Portugal chartered a specially adapted air force plane to fly to an aerodrome near the stadium in order to avoid the three-hour coach journey most teams have to face.

"We knew it was going to be difficult and the team had trouble adapting to the pitch," the Portugal manager added. "We didn't do what we are capable of in the first half. I had to bring on Ronaldo at half-time and in the end, we won the way we wanted to."

Switzerland, 5-2 winners over Hungary, lead with a maximum 27 points from nine games and need only a draw tomorrow to book their berth in Russia.

Switzerland manager Vladimir Petkovic, when asked at a press conference whether he was disappointed that a return of 27 points could not guarantee qualification, replied: "It is what it is."

He added: "I am very proud, we have this team spirit, and with this, we must also tackle the last game. This decider will be nice and interesting, and it should be enjoyed.

"We can be satisfied that we are there, but we cannot be satisfied if the result doesn't go our way. But I am convinced that we will be at this level and be the first to qualify."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2017, with the headline 'Ronaldo seals Swiss showdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe