Portugal coach Fernando Santos said the decision to start Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench against Andorra on Saturday was not taken lightly and was not just about the risk of him picking up a yellow card.
Santos said he “thought deeply” about the best way to deal with Ronaldo, who was on a yellow card and would have missed Tuesday’s decisive game against Switzerland if he had picked up another.
In the event, Ronaldo came on at halftime and scored the crucial first goal in Portugal’s 2-0 Group B win which left them three points behind leaders Switzerland with Tuesday’s meeting in Lisbon to come. “I thought hard, I pondered,” Santos said.
“Ronaldo didn’t train at 100 percent in the two days before the game. There were lots of factors which led me to take this decision. It wasn’t really about the risk of getting a yellow card because he’s an experienced player. But these games are complicated. I tried to administer the situation and do what was best. Was it the right thing? We won the game and that’s what matters.”
If Portugal had failed to win, Switzerland would have won the group and qualified directly for Russia, leaving the European champions to go into a two-leg playoff.
Santos had warned of the difficulties of facing Andorra, a physical, defensive side who play on an artificial pitch, which was in poor condition for Saturday’s game.
Portugal chartered a specially adapted air-force plane to fly to an aerodrome near the stadium and avoid the three-hour coach journey that most teams have to face.
“We knew it was going to be difficult and the team had trouble adapting to the pitch,” he said. “We didn’t do what we are capable of in the first half. I had to bring on Ronaldo at halftime and in the end, we won the way we wanted to.”