Cristiano Ronaldo, embroiled in rape allegations, will start for Juventus in Saturday’s Serie A game against Udinese, the Italian champions said.
US police on Monday re-opened an investigation into accusations by former American model Kathryn Mayorga that the former five-time Ballon d’Or winner raped her in a Las Vegas hotel in June 2009.
Ronaldo has strenuously denied the claims.
He arrived at Udinese’s compact Stadio Friuli for the game which kicks off at 16000 GMT and was greeted by the enthusiastic cries of dozens of children waiting for the two team buses.
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri confirmed Saturday that Ronaldo would start up front alongside Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic and Argentine Paulo Dybala after what has been turbulent week for the 33-year-old.
On Friday, Allegri said he was in the right frame of mind to play.
“Ronaldo is doing well, he is ready to play. His professionalism and his composure on and off the pitch are not in question,” Allegri said.
“Stronger than the mud,” headlined Turin daily Tuttosport, a traditional backer of Juventus, above a photograph of Ronaldo dining with the team, and a bigger picture of the star smiling.
“CRSexe,” was the front-page headline on Rome-based Corriere dello Sport, referring to the allegations. Another headline said “World of Juve shaken” after the club’s share price plunged almost 10 percent on Friday.
The back page was covered in an advert for Ronaldo’s line of underwear, featuring a full-page photograph of the player bare-chested.
Ronaldo has hired David Chesnoff, known as the lawyer of the stars, to defend him.
The Las Vegas-based criminal lawyer has already worked with well-known athletes like Shaquille O’Neal, Mike Tyson and Andre Agassi.
After initially dismissing the accusations as “fake news” on Instagram, the former Real Madrid player took to social media during the week to “firmly deny” the accusations.
“Rape is an abominable crime that goes against everything that I am and believe in,” he said on his Twitter feed, which has 75 million followers.
– Sponsors concerned –
However, there have been off-field consequences to the controversy.
Just two weeks ago, shares in Juventus rose 180 percent to a record level of over 1.80 euros. On Friday, they closed down 9.92 percent at 1.19 euros on the Milan stock exchange.
Nike has said it is “deeply concerned” by the allegations against one of their marquee athletes whose relationship with the US sportswear giant is rumoured to be worth $1 billion (869 million euros).
“We are deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and will continue to closely monitor the situation,” a Nike spokesman said.
According to Forbes magazine, Ronaldo is one of only three athletes to have been given a lifetime deal with Nike, joining an elite club that also includes NBA icons LeBron James and Michael Jordan.
EA Sports, for whom Ronaldo is a leading figure in their phenomenally successful FIFA video game market, also described the allegations as “concerning”.
“We are closely monitoring the situation, as we expect cover athletes and ambassadors to conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with EA’s values,” the group said in a statement.
Juventus have so far stood behind Ronaldo, who moved to Turin in the summer in a 100 million euro ($115 million) deal from Real Madrid.
However, the Italian club’s reaction to the issue has angered some fans.
The Portuguese striker “has shown in recent months his great professionalism and dedication, which is appreciated by everyone at Juventus”, the club wrote on Twitter on Thursday, breaking their silence over the allegations.
“The events allegedly dating back to almost 10 years ago do not change this opinion, which is shared by anyone who has come into contact with this great champion.”
Juventus later posted a video on YouTube and Twitter showing their star celebrating a goal, with the caption: “Cristiano Ronaldo finds the target!”
The defending Serie A champions’ tweets were widely panned on social media as “dismissive” and “insensitive”.
The Italian sports press predicted that the match against Udinese, lying 14th in Serie A, could be the most difficult of the season for Juventus, who are looking for a tenth straight win in all competitions.