Cristiano Ronaldo can continue playing at an elite level for club and country for at least three or four more years, according to Portugal head coach Fernando Santos.
Portugal face Netherlands in Sunday’s Nations League final in Porto thanks to their star forward’s stunning hat-trick to secure a 3-1 triumph over Switzerland in midweek.
It moved the 34-year-old on to 88 international goals and Santos, who led his country to glory at Euro 2016, expects Ronaldo to still be serving his country with distinction by the time the 2022 World Cup in Qatar rolls around.
“I am not surprised at how he has played,” Santos, who coached the former Manchester United and Real Madrid favourite when his career was in its infancy at Sporting CP, told a pre-match news conference.
“I was surprised he was a great player at Sporting when he was 19 and when he went to Manchester United, I lost him. But from that moment I could see his special qualities.
“He has proved from that moment that he has special qualities. He has proved himself on and off the pitch and he can continue to play at the top level for another three or four years.
“He is very fit. He trains to the limit. It is not normal to reach these performances, but I think he will continue for a while.
“He is the captain. He is a hugely important player. I think he will continue to give people joy at a club and international level.”
Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patricio spoke in similarly glowing terms and relishes pitting his wits against Ronaldo when the two long-serving internationals get together for Portugal duty.
Patricio, who will become the most capped goalkeeper in his country’s history if he makes an 81st appearance as expected at Estadio do Dragao, said: “For us as athletes, we want to train, we want to face the best in the world and that is what we work towards every day so we can compete and improve.
“To have the opportunity of working with Cristiano across the board in training, he is a fantastic professional that gives us a reason to be proud and we learn a lot.
“We are also lucky to share the dressing room with him and work alongside him. For any player or coach it gives a reason to be proud.”
Another stalwart of the Santos era, veteran defender Pepe, will be absent from the final after fracturing his right shoulder during the second half against Switzerland.
Jose Fonte is expected to partner Ruben Dias at centre-back in his absence, having come on for Pepe in midweek.