Fernando Santos believes Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal-scoring slump is unimportant because he was “tremendous” in Portugal’s World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final victory over Turkey.
Otavio and Diogo Jota scored in the first half to put Portugal in command in Porto, but Burak Yilmaz equalized after an hour and had a chance to equalize from the penalty spot with five minutes remaining.
However, Yilmaz missed the target from 12 yards, and Matheus Nunes scored in stoppage time to give the hosts a 3-1 victory, with Ronaldo hitting the crossbar late in the game.
Manchester United’s attacker had five shots on goal, two of which were on target. Portugal’s only outfield starter with fewer touches than Ronaldo was Diogo Jota (38), who played 20 minutes less than him (40).
Ronaldo also went goalless in Portugal’s 0-0 tie with Republic of Ireland and their 1-0 loss to Serbia, which lost Santos’ side automatic qualifying for Qatar.
He has only scored four goals in his last 13 outings for club and country in all competitions, but the Portugal manager is unconcerned.
“Ronaldo is judged on the goals he scores, it’s always that way,” said Santos.
“From my perspective, he played a tremendous game, bringing the group together, working and pressing with the intensity of the game.
“He didn’t score, but that doesn’t invalidate what was an excellent performance for Ronaldo. He had several opportunities. He didn’t convert them, but he opened up a lot of spaces for others and that’s something to highlight.”
Santos has been criticized for allegedly phasing out some veterans in the side in order to make room for a new generation, but the coach defended the more experienced options at his disposal.
“The one that everyone is asking to be replaced is the only golden generation. I’m very sorry to say this, but it is the only one that has brought a trophy to Portugal,” he said.
“Now, if you ask me if Portuguese football has a bright future ahead of it, with high-quality players capable of responding at any time, I’d say yes.
“Portugal have always had great players, but the golden generation is the one that won the gold.”