Ronaldo shrugs off Rooney's 'joke'

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Cristiano Ronaldo said yesterday he believed his former Manchester United colleague Wayne Rooney was joking when the Englishman said he would be pleased if Portugal failed to qualify for the World Cup.

"I am sure he was joking," said the Portuguese winger. "He is a good friend of mine and he knows Portugal are a top team. He played a few times against us and never won. But I am sure he was joking as he has friends here [in the Portugal squad]," Ronaldo said.

Rooney had said "it would be nice" to see Portugal not qualify as they had knocked out England in their last two appearances in major tournaments, the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2004. England have already qualified for next year's finals in South Africa while Portugal are third in Group One and must win both their remaining matches – against Hungary and Malta – while hoping Sweden drop points, to reach the play-offs.

Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz, who worked with both players at United, said Rooney was showing his respect for Portugal. "Knowing him, I know why he said that; it's because it shows his respect for Portuguese football and Ronaldo particularly," he said. England's recent performances, meanwhile, virtually guarantee them a top seeding in the Euro 2012 qualification draw – even though they did not reach the finals of the last tournament.

Uefa has released interim seedings for the draw, which will be held in Warsaw in February, and while there are still matches to be played, England's current position of fifth should ensure Fabio Capello's men get a favourable seeding among the nine groups.

With six groups of six teams and three of five, only the table-toppers will be guaranteed a place in the finals alongside co-hosts Poland and Ukraine – England's opponents tonight. The best runner-up will also go through, with the eight others battling it out in play-offs.