Bruno Fernandes insists the drama that has surrounded at the did not impact Portugal’s campaign, while he hit out at the referee in Saturday’s shock defeat to Morocco.
Youssef En-Nesyri’s brilliant first-half header secured an historic 1-0 victory for his side, ensuring they became the first ever African or Arab team to reach the semi-final of the tournament.
Ronaldo came on as a second-half substitute but failed to score with his only real chance of note in the match, with Morocco’s depleted and makeshift defence putting on an incredible rearguard performance to cling onto their fourth clean sheet of the World Cup.
Portugal’s campaign has been overshadowed by news and gossip surrounding their greatest ever player, who saw his contract terminated following an explosive interview with in which he hit out at the club and said he would ‘never respect’ manager Erik ten Hag.
Since then, Portuguese boss Fernando Santos and many of Ronaldo’s team-mates have had to field endless questions about the 37-year-old’s future amid suggestions he had been offered a record-breaking contract to join Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr.
Reports also emerged in Portugal claiming the five-time Ballon d’Or winner had threatened to leave the World Cup after being dropped against Switzerland in the last 16 – though all parties, including the Portuguese FA, denied that had happened.
Fernandes, who was a rare bright spark against Morocco, was asked whether the noise surrounding Ronaldo played any part in Portugal’s premature exit from the World Cup but rejected those suggestions in no uncertain terms.
Asked about the media attention that has followed Ronaldo during his time in Qatar and its impact on the Portuguese squad, Fernandes told RTP3: ‘Maybe because of who he is, people click more often on news about him to see what it’s about.
‘But it was not for any of these reasons that the team did not go further in the World Cup. We simply could not beat Morocco.’
While Fernandes was diplomatic when asked about his former United team-mate, he was rather more unfiltered when it came to referee Facundo Tello, hitting out at the Argentine’s refereeing of the match.
He continued: ‘I’ll say what I have to say. It’s very strange to have a referee who still has their national team in the competition and we don’t have a Portuguese referee.
‘Our referees officiate the Champions League, so they have the quality and level to be here. They [Argentine referees] don’t referee in the Champions League, they are not used to this type of game, they don’t have the pace for this.
‘In the first half there is a clear penalty on me. Never in my life will I let myself fall over when I am alone in front of the goalkeeper and can shoot in a situation like that. The VAR checked and gave nothing.’
He added: ‘There were many times when the game was stopped and in the second half there should have been at least 15 or 20 minutes of added time.’
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