Santos keeps New Zealand guessing on Ronaldo
Portugal head coach Fernando Santos enjoys watching Cristiano Ronaldo play just as much as the Real Madrid star's legion of fans, but that does not mean he will select him to face New Zealand in the Confederations Cup.
The European champions round off their Group A campaign against Anthony Hudson's tournament outsiders, who are already eliminated after they went down to a spirited 2-1 defeat against Mexico on Wednesday.
Ronaldo has started both matches to date, scoring the winner against hosts Russia in Moscow, where he collected a second man-of-the-match award to stand alongside the one he scooped after an opening 2-2 draw with Mexico.
Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane regularly took his talisman out of the side during the closing months of the season, keeping him fresh for decisive showings as they secured the domestic title and back-to-back European crowns.
Santos told a pre-match news conference in St Petersburg that he would similarly rotate his starting XI but refused to confirm whether that means time on the bench for Ronaldo.
"I'm not going to tell you who is going to play or not," he said. "I don't know if I am going to play with or without Cristiano – I don't want the opponents to know.
"Rotation will take place, that I can tell you.
"I'm just concentrating on this game. One step at a time. If you go two steps at a time you might stumble."
Treino na véspera do jogo com a Nova Zelândia. ️pic.twitter.com/DtzFmHOarQ
— Portugal (@selecaoportugal) June 23, 2017
Santos was told how an expectant population back in New Zealand would be keen to see how their team might tackle one of the finest players of all time.
"The enthusiasm of the New Zealand people to see Cristiano play is common to the whole world," he said.
"Many, many millions, every time Cristiano plays are interested in watching him play. He is the best player in the world.
"This happens everywhere, people want to watch Cristiano Ronaldo. Even I want to watch Cristiano Ronaldo."
One area where Santos' squad suddenly does not appear so well-stocked is left-back.
Raphael Guerreiro remains with the Portugal team after a suspected fractured ankle suffered in the Russia game turned out to be heavy bruising.
The meeting with New Zealand comes too soon for the Borussia Dortmund man, while Benfica's Eliseu sat out training on Friday due to illness.
"Raphael is not going to play for sure. Fortunately, he does not have as serious an injury as it seemed but he will not play tomorrow," Santos explained.
"He may still participate in the Confederations Cup but, first of all, we have to win the game tomorrow.
"With regards to Eliseu, we are waiting. We have 24 hours to see if he is fit to play or not. If he is not fit another player will replace him and I trust all my squad."