‘The king is back!’: Smiling Cristiano Ronaldo is visibly thrilled by Pepe’s return to the Portugal fold for the World Cup play-off against North Macedonia – after the 39-year-old defender shook off Covid
- Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal will take on North Macedonia on Tuesday
- Winner will advance to the World Cup finals in Qatar at the end of 2022
- Ronaldo was delighted at return of veteran defender Pepe in training on Sunday
- The 39-year-old had missed the play-off win over Turkey due to Covid-19
Cristiano Ronaldo is excited about the return of experienced defender Pepe to the Portugal squad after he missed Thursday’s 3-1 win over Turkey due to Covid-19.
‘The king is back! Pepe is back in the house! Look out!’ a smiling Ronaldo shouted before Portugal’s training session on a warm and sunny Sunday morning in Porto as the 39-year-old defender emerged from the dressing room.
They laughed and hugged before beginning the warm-up side by side, in the penultimate training session before the World Cup qualifying play-off against North Macedonia on Tuesday for a place in this year’s tournament in Qatar.
Cristiano Ronaldo (right) and Pepe (left) train together for Portugal on Sunday morning
Ronaldo was delighted to see his fellow veteran team-mate return to face North Macedonia
Ronaldo’s mood reflected the general feeling among the squad as they prepare to host North Macedonia, who shocked Italy 1-0 in their play-off semi-final to deprive Portugal fans of a highly anticipated clash between the last two European champions.
‘Won’t lie to you: we were all expecting it was going to be Italy,’ midfielder Joao Moutinho told a news conference.
‘Football is different nowadays, every team can win at this level, doesn’t matter the names, numbers or stats. North Macedonia have an extraordinary core and will do their best to make our life miserable on Tuesday.’
Pepe attempts to close down Ronaldo during a training ahead of the World Cup play-off
Manchester City forward Bernardo Silva said they felt no extra pressure playing a supposedly weaker team.
The duo have been playing together for Portugal since 2007 (pictured above at Euro 2008)
‘North Macedonia won four of their last five World Cup Qualifying matches as a visitor, two of them against giants like Germany and Italy, that says a lot,’ Bernardo told reporters on Sunday.
‘They are an aggressive team, they will pressure us and will come with a lot of confidence. But the pressure at us always existed because it is not about the rival, it’s about going to the World Cup. We have to be at Qatar and can’t let our fans down.’
Portugal have prepared thoroughly as usual.
‘You eat well, sleep well and stay focused,’ Bernardo said.
‘Our team is full of experienced players that are used to playing decisive matches for the biggest clubs in Europe. We all know how those games work and we have to work hard and stay focus in our objective that is going to Qatar.’
Ronaldo will be hoping to skipper his side to the World Cup with victory over North Macedonia
Joao Moutinho (right) though has urged his side not to be complacent versus North Macedonia
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