Portugal Back with Martínez as Coach, Ronaldo in the Squad

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo during a training session of the national team at Soccer City, Oeiras, Portugal, 20 March 2023. (EPA)
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo during a training session of the national team at Soccer City, Oeiras, Portugal, 20 March 2023. (EPA)
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Portugal Back with Martínez as Coach, Ronaldo in the Squad

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo during a training session of the national team at Soccer City, Oeiras, Portugal, 20 March 2023. (EPA)
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo during a training session of the national team at Soccer City, Oeiras, Portugal, 20 March 2023. (EPA)

It’s a new era for Portugal as it begins European Championship qualifying under a new coach.

Portugal starts its Euro 2024 qualifying campaign at home against Liechtenstein in Group J on Thursday, with Roberto Martínez debuting as coach and Cristiano Ronaldo still in the squad.

It will be Ronaldo’s first appearance with Portugal since leaving Europe for Saudi club Al Nassr after a mostly disappointing stint with Manchester United. He is set to break the all-time record of appearances with a national team after tying Bader Al-Mutawa’s mark of 196 outings for Kuwait during last year's World Cup.

Martínez is taking over Fernando Santos, who quit in December after Portugal’s elimination by Morocco in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Santos left amid the controversy of benching Ronaldo in the knockout stage of the tournament in Qatar.

Santos was in charge of Portugal for eight years, leading the national team to the Euro 2016 title — the country’s first major trophy — and the 2019 Nations League title. He reached an agreement with the federation to leave two years before his contract was to end.

Martínez ended his six-year stint with Belgium after the team’s disappointing group-stage elimination at the World Cup. He arrived pledging to respect Ronaldo’s history with the national team.

In addition to Ronaldo, Martínez will inherit a squad filled with talented players such as Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota, Gonçalo Ramos and João Félix. The coach made few changes to the squad, with 40-year-old defender Pepe also returning to play alongside the 38-year-old Ronaldo.

“We were briefly introduced to him on the training field,” Félix said about Martínez. “He explained to us some of his ideas, mainly for these two games, which are going to be very similar. He talked about the attacking dynamic, the connections between wingers and strikers.”

Félix downplayed Portugal’s chances in the matches against Liechtenstein and at Luxembourg on Sunday.

“We always have to be prepared and not take any game lightly,” he said. “We have the recent example of the World Cup, when everyone thought we were going to get past Morocco and we didn’t. It’s always complicated, it’s always the best from each country, and everyone plays each game like it is a final. All games will be difficult, both at home and away. We have to be cautious.”

Portugal is unbeaten against Liechtenstein, with six wins and a draw in seven matches.

Portugal’s Euro 2024 qualifying group also includes Iceland, Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The top two nations from each of the 10 groups qualify for the final tournament in Germany.



LeBron James to be Team USA Flagbearer for Paris Olympics

FILED - 02 September 2018, Berlin: Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James speaks during a promotion tour under the name of "More than an athlete." Photo: Carsten Koall/dpa
FILED - 02 September 2018, Berlin: Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James speaks during a promotion tour under the name of "More than an athlete." Photo: Carsten Koall/dpa
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LeBron James to be Team USA Flagbearer for Paris Olympics

FILED - 02 September 2018, Berlin: Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James speaks during a promotion tour under the name of "More than an athlete." Photo: Carsten Koall/dpa
FILED - 02 September 2018, Berlin: Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James speaks during a promotion tour under the name of "More than an athlete." Photo: Carsten Koall/dpa

LeBron James, the NBA's all-time leading points scorer, will be the male flagbearer for Team USA at the Paris Olympics, the USOPC announced on Monday.

James, 39, was picked by his fellow US Olympians for Friday's ceremony on the river Seine. The female flagbearer will be announced on Tuesday.

"It's an incredible honor to represent the United States on this global stage, especially in a moment that can bring the whole world together," Los Angeles Lakers power forward James said in a statement from the USOPC.

"For a kid from Akron, this responsibility means everything to not only myself, but to my family, all the kids in my hometown, my teammates, fellow Olympians and so many people across the country with big aspirations.

"Sports have the power to bring us all together, and I'm proud to be a part of this important moment."

The ceremony on the Seine will be the first time a Summer Olympics has opened outside the main stadium.

James, an Olympic gold medallist in 2008 and 2012, is not the only NBA star set to bear the flag for his country in Paris.

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and league champion in 2021, will perform the role for Greece.