Portugal weighs resting Ronaldo for New Zealand game

ST. PETERSBURG: Portugal coach Fernando Santos could deny himself the pleasure of seeing Cristiano Ronaldo play against New Zealand on Saturday.

After promising to rotate his starting lineup for a third Confederations Cup game in seven days, Santos would not confirm if that means rest for his 32-year-old star.

"Everybody wants to watch Cristiano Ronaldo, even I want to watch Cristiano Ronaldo," the coach said Friday, smiling when asked how Russia's enthusiasm for the current world's best player compared to other countries.

"I don't know if I'm going to play with Cristiano or without Cristiano," Santos said through a translator. "Obviously, rotation will take place, that I can tell you."

Portugal has the luxury to choose because of Ronaldo's decisive header early in a 1-0 win over Russia on Wednesday — his 74th goal in 141 national-team games.

The European champion has four points in Group A and needs only a draw against No. 95-ranked New Zealand to advance to the semifinals.

One reason Ronaldo is strong deep into June is because Real Madrid managed his playing time more carefully this season. He peaked from April onward with a rush of Champions League goals, including two in the final to help beat Juventus 4-1.

Santos also noted his team's Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday schedule so far in three different Russian cities.

"It's less than 72 hours to recover, it's not easy," said the coach, who steered his team to the Euro 2016 title over seven games in a 27-day period in France.

Still, the lone New Zealand reporter at the tournament insisted at the pre-match news conference that more than four million people back home want to see Ronaldo face the All Whites for the first time.

"It's many, many millions who every time Cristiano plays are very interested in watching him play," Santos said. "I'm glad that also happens in New Zealand."

New Zealand is already eliminated after losing both games, though unsettled Mexico in a 2-1 defeat. The North American champion had rested several players who started in a 2-2 draw against Portugal, including forward Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez.

"They complicated life for Mexico a lot," Santos acknowledged. "The result could have been quite different."

Portugal will be without Raphael Guerreiro on Saturday, though the Borussia Dortmund defender could return in the tournament. Santos said a suspected leg fracture sustained against Russia was not as serious as feared.