Cristiano Ronaldo's fitness was never a doubt for Portugal coach Fernando Santos as the star forward scored a hat-trick in Thursday's 6-0 victory over Lithuania.

Ronaldo was far from a certain starter for the Euro 2020 qualifier at Estadio Algarve after being substituted in Juventus' last two matches.

Juve boss Maurizio Sarri attributed the early withdrawal against Milan last weekend to a bruised knee, but the 34-year-old played 83 minutes against Lithuania and showed no signs of fatigue.

Asked how Ronaldo was feeling when substituted late on, Santos told RTP: "He's fine. I had no doubt about that, as I said before the match. Other people did, but I didn't have any doubts."

Ronaldo opened the scoring early on from a penalty he won and curled in a second prior to half-time, before completing his hat-trick 25 minutes from the end. 

Portugal midfielder Bruno Fernandes was full of praise for his team-mate, who is now up to 98 goals for the reigning European champions.

"What we have is a very motivated Cristiano, who always gives his best," Fernandes said. "He scored three times, which is normal for him."

Pizzi, Goncalo Paciencia and Bernardo Silva were also on target for Portugal, who can seal second place in Group B if they beat Luxembourg in their final qualifier on Sunday.

Santos felt his side could have scored more than twice in the first half, but was ultimately pleased with the resounding scoreline following last month's 2-1 loss to Ukraine.

"The players stuck to the plan," he said. "We played very well in the first half, with lots of variety to our game and plenty of control. 

"At the break we could have had more goals. But after scoring the fourth we could afford to rest ready for the next game.

"We'll try to beat Luxembourg in the same manner, but we have less than 72 hours to recover so we'll see."

Leonardo Bonucci will be glad to see Cristiano Ronaldo back on the pitch for Portugal and is not concerned by the forward's recent tough stretch at Juventus.

Juve superstar Ronaldo has been substituted in his past two club matches, reportedly leaving the stadium before full-time last time out against AC Milan.

Coach Maurizio Sarri attributed the former Real Madrid forward’s early withdrawal down to a bruised knee, yet he is in line to start for Portugal against Lithuania in Euro 2020 qualifying on Thursday.

Club colleague Bonucci is keen not to dwell on the events of recent weeks, though, happy to instead back Ronaldo to return to Turin determined to lead the Bianconeri going forward.

"I like to look forward, not back," Italy international Bonucci told a news conference. "There will be time to talk but now we are with the national teams.

"He will play with Portugal - that means he is physically better and mentally great. And I am here to represent Italy. In Turin, we will talk.

"There are still many games in which we will need the best Ronaldo. I am convinced that, for him, too, the goal is to be better than the past to achieve team and personal goals."

Ronaldo has scored six goals in 14 matches in all competitions for Juve this season.

Sarri's men are a point clear of nearest rivals Inter at the top of Serie A, while they have secured their place in the Champions League knockout stage with two group matches to spare.

Sandro Tonali insisted he is "not scared" about his €300million valuation as Europe's elite eye the Brescia and Italy sensation.

Brescia owner and president Massimo Cellino said it would take an offer of €300m for the Serie A side to part with prized asset Tonali.

Tonali – who broke into Brescia's first team at the age of 17 – has been linked to Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Atletico Madrid, Inter and Manchester United.

Asked about the price tag ahead of Italy's Euro 2020 qualifier against Bosnia-Herzegovina, the 19-year-old playmaker – who made his international debut last month – told Rai Sport: "I love President Cellino very much and he rates me highly.

"He's a great person and I hope to travel down a good road with him.

"After the match against Fiorentina, he said he wouldn't even sell me for €300m, but that doesn't scare me, even if it really is a lot of money.

"I'm confident about what we'll do this season. For now I'm not thinking about the market, I just want to help Brescia stay up."

Tonali came off the bench to make his Italy bow in the country's 5-0 rout of Liechtenstein in Euro 2020 qualifying on October 15.

The Brescia star has been compared to Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso and Daniele De Rossi – who now plays for Boca Juniors.

On those comparisons, Tonali added: "Being compared to Pirlo doesn't bother me, but I think we're very different because he had indescribable technique and quality.

"I consider myself to be like Gattuso but more technical. He's always been my role model."

Persistent questions about Cristiano Ronaldo saw Portugal coach Fernando Santos reach the end of his tether at his pre-match news conference.

Ronaldo has been substituted in his past two appearances for Juventus and reportedly left the stadium before full-time against AC Milan last time out, as replacement Paulo Dybala struck the winner.

The suggestion Ronaldo was unhappy dominated the agenda as Portugal faced the media on Wednesday, with Ruben Neves insisting his team-mate was "fine".

But Santos was not willing to similarly answer questions on the forward, believing the profile of the player meant too much was being read into the Juventus substitution.

"Everybody wants to talk about Cristiano Ronaldo, everybody wants to give their opinion on Cristiano Ronaldo," he said ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifier against Lithuania.

"Because if this thing [the substitution] was with any other player, nobody would be talking about it. We are only talking about this because it's Cristiano Ronaldo.

"There are millions of players out there and it seems that this only happens to him and maybe another two or three players. To nobody else.

"Cristiano is here, he was called up, he's fine, he'll play, I have no doubts about it. So, for me, there's no issue here."

Santos clearly felt he had made his stance clear, as he replied to the next question on Ronaldo: "Cristiano Ronaldo again? No, sorry, sorry.

"On Cristiano Ronaldo again, I'm talking about Portugal. You are talking to me about Cristiano. Cristiano, no. I won't talk about Cristiano anymore.

"For me, the theme of Cristiano Ronaldo ends here."

Portugal will qualify for next year's European Championship finals if they beat Lithuania while Serbia fail to defeat Luxembourg.

Ruben Neves is not concerned about Cristiano Ronaldo's state of mind for Portugal despite a difficult week at club level with Juventus.

Ronaldo, 34, was substituted in each of Juve's past two matches before the international break and is reported to have left the stadium early when hooked in Sunday's 1-0 win over AC Milan.

Paulo Dybala came on for the Portugal talisman against Milan and went on to score the winner, with Ronaldo visibly annoyed as he headed straight down the tunnel when replaced by the Argentina international.

Juve head coach Maurizio Sarri put Ronaldo's withdrawals down to a bruised knee, though the forward still received criticism for his reaction.

Wojciech Szczesny said Ronaldo's anger was understandable, but he appears to have mellowed since linking up with Portugal.

Speaking ahead of Thursday's Euro 2020 qualifier against Lithuania, Neves said: "Cristiano is fine, had a great training session, as always, and he has a great motivation for the match.

"He's fully prepared for the match. I guess he has no idea of what people are talking about.

"He had a fine training session, as I've already said, so I guess we can expect the Ronaldo we always see in the game tomorrow."

Wolves midfielder Neves has continued to impress this season after catching the eye in the Premier League last term, but it was put to him that he seems more reserved when wearing a Portugal jersey.

He is convinced that is a misconception, however, adamant he feels just as productive for the Selecao as he does for Wolves.

"No, no," Neves said. "We have lots of matches with Wolves. If we compare my number of matches and goals for Wolves and the same for Portugal, the difference won't be big.

"So, I'm focused on helping my national team all the times I'm called up and don't have anything more to say about this."

Riccardo Montolivo insists he holds no grudge with AC Milan even as he retires 18 months on from his final Serie A appearance.

The 34-year-old has been without a club since his Milan contract ran out at the end of the 2018-19 season and has now decided to call a halt to his career.

However, Montolivo had not played a professional match since a 1-1 draw at Atalanta on May 13, 2018, being named on the bench 17 times in Serie A last term without making a single appearance.

Discussing his retirement with Corriere dello Sport, Montolivo revealed he had accepted a fringe role for his final campaign at the club but was disappointed not to feature at all.

"I last played in May 2018, at Atleti Azzurri d'Italia, the same stadium where I had started sixteen years before," he said.

"I had two seasons at Atalanta, seven at Fiorentina and seven at Milan, although the last year-and-a-half has been an ordeal. I was marginalised, answers were never given.

"I don't hold a grudge. Those who have been wrong with me, those who have disrespected me, repeatedly, will probably come to terms with their conscience."

Montolivo added of Gennaro Gattuso, his last coach at Milan: "In the end, I also received the compliments of the coach.

"And do you know what he added? That he would have been crazy had he been in my place. I felt cheated once more."

Montolivo lost the Milan captaincy to Leonardo Bonucci upon the latter's arrival from Juventus in 2017, a decision made without any input from the deposed skipper.

"I didn't deliver [the armband] to him," the midfielder said. "They told me that [then owner] Li Yonghong had decided the armband would be passed to one of the new signings.

"When they told me about it, I explained that I found it unfair, that they were making a big mistake because there are hierarchies in the locker room that should always be respected.

"I put forward the names of [Giacomo] Bonaventura and [Alessio] Romagnoli. But nothing - Bonucci.

"In today's football, everyone thinks for himself. Solidarity, the sense of the group, this is stuff of the past. Anyway, [his team-mates] couldn't do anything."

AC Milan are desperate to add some firepower, but the Serie A side may not be opting for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Ibrahimovic, 38, has been linked with a return to San Siro as the superstar prepares to leave LA Galaxy at the end of his contract.

However, Milan are considering their options.

 

TOP STORY – MILAN LOOK ELSEWHERE AMID IBRAHIMOVIC LINKS

AC Milan are eyeing Napoli star Dries Mertens and Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic, according to Tuttosport.

Stefano Pioli's men are struggling in 14th in Serie A, having scored just 11 goals in 12 league games.

Krzysztof Piatek is Milan's leading goalscorer in the league, but he has managed just three in 12.

The report says Ibrahimovic remains an option in the background.

ROUND-UP

- Juventus stars are expecting an apology from Cristiano Ronaldo after his outburst on Sunday, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. Ronaldo reportedly left the stadium after being substituted in the second half of Juve's 1-0 win over Milan.

- Expect movement at Barcelona in January. Sport reports the LaLiga champions could sell Ivan Rakitic, Carles Alena and Moussa Wague without making any additions. Meanwhile, ESPN FC says Barcelona consider €100million too high a price to pay for Salzburg star Erling Haaland.

- Dani Olmo is still attracting interest from Europe's biggest clubs. CalcioMercato reports the Spanish attacker is ready to leave Dinamo Zagreb, who want €40m amid interest from Manchester City, AC Milan and Roma.

- Amid a lack of playing time at Real Madrid, Brahim Diaz and Mariano have been offered to Espanyol, according to Sport. Brahim has played just 18 LaLiga minutes this season, while Mariano is yet to feature in 2019-20.

- Andrea Belotti is set to re-sign with Torino. The striker – who has scored seven goals in 12 Serie A games this season – will get higher wages and a release clause of €100m, which will apply only for foreign clubs, according to CalcioMercato.

- Inter want to make as many as three signings in January, according to Tuttosport. Second in the Serie A table, one of those additions is set to depend on how much Inter bring in from the sale of Gabriel Barbosa – the forward is on loan at Flamengo.

Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric revealed he liked Italy and could be open to a move to Serie A in the future.

The 34-year-old claimed the Golden Foot award on Tuesday, almost a year after winning the Ballon d'Or following a tremendous 2018.

However, Modric has only made three LaLiga starts for Madrid this season and has previously been linked with a move to both Milan clubs.

The Croatia international said he followed Serie A and enjoyed Italy, with a move possible in the future.

"I like Italy, it's close to Croatia," he told Sky Sport. "I follow Serie A because I have many national team-mates playing there.

"The Italians are fantastic and have a mentality similar to us Croats."

Modric added: "We'll see if one day I can play in Italy. I cannot talk about this because I am a Real Madrid player.

"I like being at Real and for now I see my future there alone."

Modric has been at Madrid since 2012, when he arrived from Tottenham, and has made more than 300 appearances for the club.

Lionel Messi is seemingly in no rush to extend his Barcelona contract.

Messi's future is regularly talked about after it was revealed earlier this year the superstar can leave the LaLiga giants for free at the end of any season.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner is contracted at Barcelona until 2021, though it remains to be seen if he wants to stay on beyond his current deal.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI IN NO RUSH OVER BARCELONA CONTRACT

Messi has no intention of discussing a contract extension at Barcelona until next season, according to Marca.

The 32-year-old plans to be at the club next season, the report says, but will not open talks regarding a new deal.

Messi has been at Barcelona during his entire professional career, winning 10 LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues among numerous other trophies.

ROUND-UP

- Paris Saint-Germain are looking to the future. Sport reports the Ligue 1 giants are seriously considering a move for Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior. Kylian Mbappe and Neymar have been linked with moves away from PSG and the 19-year-old could help the French club going forward.

- Manchester City and Real Madrid could be set for a transfer battle. The clubs are interested in Real Sociedad and Spain forward Mikel Oyarzabal, according to CalcioMercato. The 22-year-old has scored 29 LaLiga goals since the start of 2017-18.

- Unai Emery has some time. The Sun reports the under-fire Arsenal head coach will be given until 2020 to turn the club's form around. It also reports Manchester City would allow assistant Mikel Arteta – an ex-Arsenal midfielder – to head to Emirates Stadium, should his former club want to appoint the Spaniard.

- Liverpool could strengthen in January. TalkSPORT reports the Premier League leaders are in advanced talks with Bournemouth over a deal to sign winger Ryan Fraser, who is out of contract at the end of the season. Bournemouth may want Harry Wilson – who is on loan from Liverpool – as part of a deal.

- Struggling in ninth in Serie A, Fiorentina may be ready to move on from Vincenzo Montella. The club are ready to make an approach for former Inter coach Luciano Spalletti, according to Firenze Viola.

Cristiano Ronaldo's angry reaction to be substituted against AC Milan is "normal" and he will make the difference in the decisive moments of the season, says Juventus team-mate Wojciech Szczesny.

Portugal forward Ronaldo was hauled off for the second game running when the Bianconeri were chasing a goal and, just as they did against Lokomotiv Moscow in midweek, Juve went on to secure a victory with Paulo Dybala's strike sealing a 1-0 win.

Ronaldo stormed straight down the tunnel after being hooked and is reported to have left the Allianz Stadium before the final whistle

Head coach Maurizio Sarri later said Ronaldo is still struggling with a knee injury and insisted he should be thanked for trying to play through the pain barrier.

Ronaldo's angry reaction to being withdrawn suggested he was not entirely happy with Sarri's decision, although it is reported the club will not take any action against their superstar forward.

Goalkeeper Szczesny had sympathy for Ronaldo's reaction, saying: "I think it is normal for a champion to get a little angry when he leaves the field.

"He will return in better physical condition and, as he has always done, will make the difference in the decisive phase of the season.

"In recent weeks he has not trained at 100 per cent, after the international break it will be better. We all know the qualities and personality of Ronaldo."

After the game, Ronaldo posted on Instagram with the caption: "A difficult game, an important win!"

Roberto Mancini will not recall Mario Balotelli to the Italy squad just to make an anti-racism statement but is adamant the Brescia striker is still young enough to make an impact for the Azzurri.

Balotelli, 29, was subjected to racist abuse by Hellas Verona fans in a 2-1 defeat this month and threatened to walk off the pitch.

Verona were ordered by Serie A to play a match with a partial stadium closure, while the club banned head ultra Luca Castellini for 11 years after he defended the fans' actions in a radio interview.

Balotelli returned to the Italy fold in 2018 after a four-year absence but has been back in the international wilderness since a 1-1 draw with Poland last September.

Mancini, the coach who gave him his big break at Inter in 2007, insists he is eager to see Balotelli play his way back into the squad, but he will not call up the forward for anything other than his performances.

"Football is a sport and as such it must unite people and not get destroyed by those few who make mistakes," Mancini told reporters.

"I love Mario. I played him when he was a teenager. He is still young enough to give much to the sport, but for me it is important to state that if I am to call him up, it's because he deserves it and can help us.

"Then, after what happened, I could have called him up, as the [Italian Football Federation] president [Gabriele Gravina] said, but I think it's important I call him when he technically deserves it, not to send a message. He still has other chances.

"We are nearly in 2020 and skin colour... It is not very easy for some people to change their attitude, unfortunately.

"We called up some young players [instead] because from now until March we will not have the chance to see them live [for Italy]."

Italy are due to face Bosnia-Herzegovina and Armenia in their final two Euro 2020 qualifiers on Friday and the following Monday, respectively.

The Azzurri are already assured of a place at next year's tournament.

France have called up Arsenal midfielder Matteo Guendouzi to replace the injured Blaise Matuidi for this month's final Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Juventus star Matuidi was diagnosed with a rib problem during medical tests in Turin on Monday, having played 70 minutes of Sunday's 1-0 Serie A win over AC Milan.

"The midfielder today underwent an MRI scan, which showed a fracture of the cartilage of the 10th rib," Juve said in a statement.

"I'm unfortunately out of the squad," Matuidi wrote earlier on Twitter.

"But I'm certain that France will get qualification. I'm looking forward to coming back for the next dates."

The French Football Federation confirmed Guendouzi will link up with the squad at Clairefontaine later on Monday.

The reigning world champions will qualify for Euro 2020 from Group H if they beat Moldova in Paris on Thursday, or if Iceland fail to win against Turkey.

"Qualifying has never historically been simple for Les Bleus," head coach Didier Deschamps told reporters on Monday.

"We only took one point from six against Turkey, but the main objective is to qualify.

"It's our goal to finish first, but that's not in our hands anymore because of Turkey. But even if we're first, we wouldn't necessarily be seeded for the draw [for the finals]."

France finish their qualifying campaign with an away game against Albania on November 17.

Italy confirmed Marco Verratti, Domenico Berardi and Leonardo Spinazzola have withdrawn from the squad for upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Armenia, but Sandro Tonali has been added to the roster.

Paris Saint-Germain star Verratti played 80 minutes of their 2-1 win at Brest on Saturday but was withdrawn – according to reports in Italy – due to a calf strain.

Similarly, Italy have not confirmed the issue in-form Sassuolo attacker Berardi has sustained, though it is claimed he injured his thigh during the 3-1 defeat of Bologna.

Spinazzola is reported to have suffered a muscular problem in action for Roma on Sunday.

Verratti is the only player to have been replaced, with highly rated 19-year-old Tonali, who has impressed in his debut Serie A season with Brescia, in line to earn his second cap.

Italy have already qualified for Euro 2020. Their two remaining qualifiers see them face Bosnia away on Friday, before hosting Armenia three days later.

AC Milan, Bologna, Perth Glory, Inter and even Juventus have been linked to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Ibrahimovic's LA Galaxy contract is set to expire before the end of the year and the veteran striker is not short of suitors.

And a return to Old Trafford could be on the cards for the 38-year-old.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED TARGETING IBRAHIMOVIC

Manchester United are preparing to make a move for former striker Ibrahimovic, reports Mail Online.

Ibrahimovic left United for MLS outfit LA Galaxy in 2018 and he has flourished in the United States, where he has scored 53 goals across two seasons.

But with Ibrahimovic – who has been linked to AC Milan, Bologna and A-League side Perth Glory – coming off contract and United looking to bolster their attacking options following the departures of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, a Manchester comeback has been mooted.

ROUND-UP

Inter are set to back Antonio Conte in the January transfer window. Following Conte's outburst over a lack of squad planning after Inter's Champions League defeat to Borussia Dortmund, Calciomercato says the Nerazzurri are ready to sign Parma duo Matteo Darmian and Dejan Kulusevski. Darmian only arrived from Manchester United at the start of the season, while teenage midfielder Kulusevski is on loan from Atalanta.

- Pressure is mounting on Unai Emery but Arsenal are not worried. According to the Mail, the Gunners will not be panicked into sacking head coach Emery – whose side have gone four league games without a win and sit sixth, eight points outside of the top four. Former Spain and Barcelona boss Luis Enrique has emerged as a possible replacement.

- Despite Southampton's poor form, the Premier League strugglers are still behind boss Ralph Hasenhuttl according to The Sun. The Saints are 19th and three points adrift of safety amid a seven-match winless streak in the league – highlighted by a record 9-0 humiliation against Leicester City.

Dries Mertens could be set to leave Napoli. Second on the club's all-time scoring list, Corriere dello Sport and Gazzetta dello Sport claim Mertens has agreed to join Inter as a free agent at the end of the season. The 32-year-old has called Naples home since arriving from PSV in 2013.

Maurizio Sarri said he is "not worried" about the knee problem that contributed to Cristiano Ronaldo's second-half substitution against AC Milan on Sunday.

Ronaldo was taken off with the Serie A result still in the balance for the second game in succession and the Juve superstar appeared frustrated with the decision.

The 34-year-old forward jogged straight down the tunnel and reportedly left the Allianz Stadium before the final whistle in Turin.

His replacement, Paulo Dybala, later produced an excellent goal to secure Juve a 1-0 victory over struggling Milan.

Ronaldo had underperformed in his 55 minutes on the pitch, leading Sarri to explain the nature of his injury issue.

"He was hit in a training session. He suffered a knee bruise. Maybe the right knee, if I remember correctly," the Bianconeri head coach said.

"It's not a big issue, no twist, only a bruise at the collateral ligament. When he steps he can't push as usual, but I am not worried about it."

Sarri's withdrawal of Ronaldo when three points were up for grabs mirrored the move he made in the midweek Champions League win over Lokomotiv Moscow.

The former Real Madrid man's failure to reappear on the bench attracted criticism from ex-Juve coach Fabio Capello.

"The fact that he didn't sit on the bench and said bad words to Sarri is not a pretty picture," Capello told Sky Sport Italia.

"One must be a champion even when he is replaced, not only when things are going well. Right now, Dybala is in great shape.

"The truth is that Ronaldo has not dribbled past an opponent for three years. I remember it when he went past players and left them there. Now it doesn't happen anymore, while Douglas Costa and Dybala do it.

"If I had been in Sarri's place I would have reproached him in the changing room. I would have told him that he must have respect for his team-mates and if I take him off it is because I want to try to win the game."

Dybala's intervention means Juve remain a point ahead of Serie A title rivals Inter going into the international break.

Blaise Matuidi could be forced to pull out of the France squad following further medical assessment on a suspected rib fracture, Sarri confirmed.

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