Doubts have been raised over the fitness of Ronaldo as of late, as he has been substituted in Juventus' last two games. In the clash with AC Milan on Sunday, the 34-year-old was taken off before the hour-mark and headed straight down the tunnel.
Speaking on the eve of the qualifier, Santos dismissed any notion that Ronaldo was injured and commented on the buzz that constantly follows the Bianconeri star, per Richard Martin of Reuters (h/t the MailOnline).
"If he wasn't fit, we wouldn't have called him up," he said. "Everyone likes to talk and speculate about Cristiano Ronaldo because he is the best player in the world. If it was any other player, there would be no such fuss. He is fit, and he's going to play."
Santos continued to be asked about his key man during the media briefing and said, "This conference is not about Cristiano Ronaldo, it's about Portugal and the game with Lithuania."
Ronaldo didn't cut a happy figure when he was taken off in the showdown with AC Milan; Juventus eventually won 1-0, with substitute Paulo Dybala on target:
Premier Sports 📺 @PremierSportsTV
Cristiano Ronaldo was subbed off last night for the second game in a row while the score was still level 😮 & His replacement Paulo Dybala scored the winner ⚽ So far in 10 Serie A games this season: 👉 57 shots (24 on target) 👉 5 goals 👉 1 assist https://t.co/X3obep4Sg2
Afterward, Juventus manager Maurizio Sarri hinted the player isn't completely fit, saying he should be praised for playing when not in top condition.
"We must thank Ronaldo because he made a sacrifice to be there at all tonight in a difficult situation," Sarri told Sky Sport Italia (h/t Goal). "He did everything possible to play, but I saw he was not well and thought it best to take him off. It’s only natural a player is going to be irritated to leave the pitch, especially when he worked so hard to be there."
According to Sky Sport Italia (h/t Football Italia), after being substituted, Ronaldo is said to have left the stadium before the final whistle.
Per Portuguese football writer Tom Kundert, Ronaldo played an active part in the team's preparations for the game:
The sharpshooter will be desperate to get on the pitch on Thursday as he closes in on a century of goals for Portugal.
Ronaldo has 95 in total and bolstered his tally when the two teams previously met by netting four times:
Portugal haven't been at their best in their qualifying group, with Ukraine already confirmed as Group B winners after they were 2-1 winners over the Selecao in the previous international break.
It's not anticipated Portugal will have any problem achieving a second-place finish and thus booking their place at the competition finals next summer. Two wins from their last two matches—they face Luxembourg on Sunday—should be attainable for the European champions, especially if Ronaldo is on the field. Serbia are lurking a point behind in third place and will look to capitalise on any slip, though.