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 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.”