Pepe says Cristiano Ronaldo is “fine” after his emotional response to Portugal’s shock defeat to Morocco in the World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.
Ronaldo was left out of the starting line-up by head coach Fernando Santos for the second straight game after his angry reaction to being substituted against South Korea in the final group match.
Youssef En-Nesyri scored a towering header to give Morocco the lead, and despite Ronaldo’s introduction shortly after half-time, Portugal were unable to find an equaliser as they were dumped out of the tournament.
The loss elicited an emotional reaction from Ronaldo as the five-time Ballon d’Or winner left the field in tears, before a social media post on Sunday saw him accept his “most ambitious dream” of winning a World Cup with Portugal was over.
While Ronaldo held off from making a definitive call on his international future, Pepe feels the forward should be appreciated for his efforts in a Portugal shirt whatever he decides to do.
“Ronaldo is fine,” Pepe told reporters after arriving back in Lisbon. “He’s our Portuguese flag. He reaches all parts of the world.
“He gave us his contribution when he was called. We have to thank him and all his team-mates who did their best to be available for the coach.”
0 – Cristiano Ronaldo has failed to score in all eight of his knockout stage appearances at the World Cup (inc. third place play-off), going 570 minutes without scoring and taking 27 shots in the process. Exit.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe)
Despite Portugal head coach Fernando Santos’ contract running until 2024, it is rumoured he may step down after this World Cup disappointment.
Asked about Santos’ future, Pepe explained: “I’m a player, I don’t have to talk about it. I’m not going to go down that path.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t achieve the goal we wanted. We tried to give everything to honour our country.
“It’s football. There are these things. We have to learn from what happened so that the future is better for us.”
Portugal’s next match is against Liechtenstein in their opening Euro 2024 qualifier on March 23.