Ronaldo ‘thrilled’ with Portugal’s new generation of players

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Cristiano Ronaldo smiles as he arrives for a Portugal soccer team training session in Oeiras, outside Lisbon, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. Portugal will play Nigeria Thursday in a friendly match in Lisbon before departing to Qatar on Friday for the World Cup. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Cristiano Ronaldo knows a thing or two about World Cups. He has played in four of them and is about to make it to a record-tying fifth this month in Qatar.

Ronaldo also knows when he sees something promising, and he believes this time there is reason to feel optimistic about the chances of a talented Portugal squad that mixes the right amount of experience and youth as it tries to win its first World Cup title.

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“The squad for this World Cup is a great mix of experienced players and young rising stars, and I hope we can show the world what this Portugal team is capable of at the very highest level of the world game,” Ronaldo told The Associated Press ahead of the launch of his inaugural NFT collection with cryptocurrency exchange giant Binance.

The collection will be available Friday, just before the World Cup starts, and the bidding price for some of the collectibles related to the soccer star will begin at the equivalent of about $10,000. The NFTs will feature seven animated statues depicting Ronaldo from iconic moments in his life, ranging from bicycle-kick goals to his childhood in Portugal.

Ronaldo often attracted most of the attention any time Portugal played, but this time he will enter the World Cup sharing some of the spotlight with a talented group of players that includes Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, João Félix and Rafael Leão.

“I’ve been thrilled to see this generation of players thrive,” the 37-year-old Ronaldo said in emailed comments to the AP. “It’s hard to compare one generation with another. Everyone who plays for Portugal, whether in the past or today, has overcome so much to compete at the top level.”

The only player older than Ronaldo in Portugal’s squad is veteran central defender Pepe, who will be playing in his fourth World Cup.

Ronaldo, the all-time leading scorer in men’s international soccer with 117 goals, helped Portugal win the European Championship in 2016 and the inaugural edition of the Nations League in 2019, but he is still missing soccer’s biggest prize.

Portugal’s best result in the tournament with Ronaldo playing came in 2006 in Germany, when the team reached the semifinals. Portugal didn’t make it past the round of 16 at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

“Of course we’re there to win and I believe we have the squad to do it,” Ronaldo said. “But then there are a number of top teams out there with world-class talent — so we have to stay focused, stay humble, and go out there and show what we can do. The rest will follow.”

Ronaldo endured a letdown at the club level for the first time in his career this season, not getting as many minutes as expected with Manchester United. He has dismissed the possibility that this will be his last tournament with Portugal, but said soccer will be just fine after he and 35-year-old Lionel Messi — who could also be making his last World Cup appearance with Argentina — retire from the international stage.

“There have always been and there always will be rising stars at the top level,” Ronaldo said. “I have no doubt that the World Cup will unveil the next generation of talent ready to change the game.”

Portugal will plays it's opening match at this year's World Cup against Ghana on Nov. 24. Uruguay and South Korea are also in Group H..


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