Cristiano Ronaldo in Portugal Euro squad ‘on merit’

Cristiano Ronaldo has earned his place in the Portugal squad for Euro 2024 “on merit,” according to head coach Roberto Martinez.

Ronaldo, who will become the first to play at six European Championships, was dropped by former coach Fernando Santos during Portugal’s last major tournament appearance at the 2022 World Cup, prompting suggestions that he could quit international football.

Since the tournament in Qatar, Ronaldo has left Europe to play his club football with Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia. But after scoring 50 goals for Al Nassr last season, the 39-year-old has been picked for Euro ’24 in Germany and Martinez said he deserves his spot.

“Cristiano is in the national team on merit,” Martinez told a news conference on Monday ahead of Portugal’s opening Group F game against Czechia. “Nobody gets into the national team by just having a name. Cristiano scored 50 goals in 51 games — consistent with his club in his league — and he scored nine goals in our qualification rounds.

“He’s a goal scorer and for us he’s someone who can make that final move. He can stretch defences and open spaces. Over the years he has changed his way of playing slightly, but I can only say that Cristiano is in the national team on merit and the numbers are there to back that up.”

Ronaldo, Portugal’s captain, could start against Czechia in Leipzig after proving his fitness by playing 90 minutes in the final warmup game against Ireland. He scored twice in a 3-0 win to take his international goal tally 130 in 207 appearances for the national team.

“He represents inspiration, he represents that everything is possible,” teammate Rúben Dias said of Ronaldo. “He represents that you can dream and you can achieve it. He represents a lot of things, but mainly I would like to say that it’s a pleasure to have him with us.

“More than all these little things, him being with us in this moment of his career, he shows that he really wants to win again. He’s our captain and we follow him until the end.”