PARIS (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo was provoked into belittling Iceland after being booed during their European Championship opener, according to Portugal coach Fernando Santos.
Ronaldo has faced a backlash in Iceland for suggesting the first-time European Championship participants were just happy to draw 1-1 in the Group F game in Saint-Etienne on Tuesday.
Reflecting the mood in Nordic island, the Frettabladid newspaper said Ronaldo is now “not the most popular man in Iceland.”
But Santos believes Icelanders are in no position to judge the Ballon D’Or holder.
“When people talk about fair play sometimes it makes me want to laugh … after what the Iceland manager and some players said and did for 90 minutes,” Santos said through a translator on Friday.
“They booed Pepe and Ronaldo and the players on the bench kept heckling Pepe. We have our feelings and sometimes people will respond in a very emotional way.”
Expanding further on the apparent “provocations,” Santos concluded at the news conference ahead of Saturday’s game against Austria: “I don’t think you should bring up fair play after other people showed this lack of fair play.”
It’s not the first time Ronaldo has provoked an angry reaction at a major tournament. In a 2006 World Cup match against England, Ronaldo’s wink after then-Manchester United teammate Wayne Rooney was sent off angered the opposition’s fans.
Perhaps the only frustrating thing for Santos about Ronaldo’s presence in the team is the stream of questions — often unimaginative — about the Real Madrid forward.
“Ronaldo is the best player in the world,” Santos said. “What else can I say?”
Next, Santos needs Ronaldo to do his talking on the field again when Portugal faces an Austrian side that lost its opening match in Group F 2-0 to Hungary.
“We have to believe in what we can do —there is no reason to feel shaken or shake the players’ belief in themselves,” Santos said. “We have plenty of quality.
“We are very talented and we can fight. So we are going to fight for our victory.”
And yet there will still be a cautious approach.
“I don’t think these teams are gung-ho, are insane so to speak — both Austria and Portugal will try to take risks but in a balanced way,” Santos said.
“We have not had a revolution since 1974,” he quipped.