EURO 2024: Ronaldo can handle the physical intensity of Euro 2024, Portugal coach says

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Christian Pulisic of the United States is helped by team doctors after he scoring his side's opening goal during the World Cup group B soccer match between Iran and the United States at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

DORTMUND, Germany (AP) — Portugal coach Roberto Martinez plucked out statistics to defend his continued selection of Cristiano Ronaldo after the striker’s capacity to handle the physical intensity of the European Championship was questioned on Friday.

The 39-year-old Ronaldo played the full game but didn’t score in Portugal’s group-stage opener, a come-from-behind 2-1 win against the Czech Republic on Tuesday.

Next up for the five-time world player of the year is what promises to be an intense, atmospheric match against Turkey and its loud, passionate fans in Dortmund on Saturday.

Get out of the group and Portugal will have to play every four or five days to reach the final in Berlin on July 14.

Martinez insisted that was not beyond Ronaldo, even at his age, and pointed to his record in the Saudi league with Al-Nassr in the recently completed season.

“Can I ask you something?” Martinez replied when asked if Ronaldo’s minutes might have to be managed at Euro 2024. “Do you know how many minutes Cristiano played last season?”

The answer was 2,649 minutes in league play, the second highest for Al-Nassr behind Sadio Mane. Ronaldo started 31 of the team’s 34 games, again behind only Mane’s 32.

It was put to Martinez that the intensity of the Saudi league doesn’t compare to what he is experiencing at Euro 2024 and that he doesn’t need to press from the front as much with his club.

“I think when you are talking about atmosphere, it is about experience and how you handle big occasions,” Martinez continued. “I don’t think there is another player in world football who has had six European Championships.

“What is important to understand is what a player brings. For us, Cristiano brings experience, know-how, goalscoring opportunities, that movement in the box, the opportunity to open space. If you want to analyze his stats in terms of the physical, all you need to do is look at what he has done in the last 12 months.”

Martinez maintained Ronaldo was being picked because of what he continues to do, not simply what he has done in his storied career.

“Cristiano is in the national team of Portugal because he deserves to be,” Martinez said. “Cristiano has scored 51 goals in 50 games (last season). All the physical stats just back up that he can play every four days.”

Ronaldo was dropped by Portugal for the knockout stage of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where the team was coached by Fernando Santos and wound up getting eliminated by Morocco in the quarterfinals.

Given Martinez’s robust defense of Ronaldo, there appears little chance of that happening in Germany and he praised Ronaldo for his workrate and discipline against the Czechs, against whom he had three shots on target.

“He is a player who is a poacher in the box,” Martinez said, “and he will open space for other players.”

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AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024