Portugal star Ruben Neves speaks out on World Cup pitch invader who waved rainbow flag

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Ruben Neves has insisted that he hopes nothing bad happens to the pitch invader who was responsible for a brief interruption during Portugal’s crucial World Cup win over Uruguay on Monday evening. The match was halted early in the second half when a man, who was holding a rainbow flag and wearing a shirt with ‘Save Ukraine’ and ‘Respect Iranian women’ brandished across it, ran onto the pitch and was quickly hauled to the ground by security officials before being dragged off the playing surface.

The incident marked the latest in a string of controversies to unfold surrounding the World Cup in Qatar, a nation that has received widespread criticism due to its laws on homosexuality and reported treatment of migrant workers over the last few months.

Neves was quizzed on the protest after the full-time whistle and insisted that he supported the messages written on the pitch invader’s shirt before urging Qatari authorities to go easy on him in spite of his stunt that disrupted Portugal’s match against Uruguay. “We know what has happened around this World Cup,” Neves told reporters post-match.

“It is a normal thing that can happen. Of course, we are all with them and the message on his shirt as well. We hope nothing happens to the boy because we understand his message and I think all the world understood it as well.”

Portugal made sure of a place in the knockout stages of the World Cup by overcoming the challenge posed by Uruguay in spite of the mid-match interruption, which occurred just moments before the opening goal of the game.

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Bruno Fernandes managed to put the one-time European champions ahead shortly before the hour mark despite Cristiano Ronaldo initially wheeling away to celebrate, only for it to emerge that he did not get the final touch on the ball.

Fernandes stepped up to double Portugal’s lead from the penalty spot in stoppage time, with the result confirming a spot in the last 16 for Fernando Santos’ men with a game to spare.

“I didn’t see the image yet,” replied Neves when asked about Portugal’s first goal which was quickly claimed by Ronaldo. “He [Fernandes] said he didn’t know. The most important thing is not who scored for Portugal but how we won the game.

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“It’s an amazing feeling [to qualify]. Our main goal was this. We did it but we still have one game to play and we want to go to finish first in our group. We don’t think about [who we play in the next round]. We see that game coming as important so we focus on the next game.

“We know even though we have all the individuals in the world, if we don’t work together we won’t go anywhere. So this is a big example that we showed tonight. We are very happy we are moving forward to the next round. We must enjoy the moment.”

Portugal boss Santos, meanwhile, refused to be drawn into the debate over who scored his team’s first goal but was quick to praise the collective efforts of his players, adding: “Ronaldo played a great game but all our team played a great performance. I think it was a great match, our team played very well and the rest for me does not matter.”

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