No Cristiano Ronaldo, no problem for Portugal as it produced a dynamic display to thrash Switzerland 6-1 and reach the quarterfinals at Qatar 2022.
The superstar striker was dropped from the starting lineup on Tuesday by Fernando Santos but the bold decision paid off for the Portugal manager.
Ronaldo’s replacement, 21-year-old Gonçalo Ramos, scored a brilliant hat-trick as he spearheaded a scintillating Portugal offense.
The Benfica youngster, who was just two years old when Ronaldo made his international debut, opened the scoring in the first half after unleashing a scorching shot past goalkeeper Yann Sommer in the 17th minute.
Veteran defender Pepe then doubled Portugal’s lead before half-time with a bullet header as Switzerland failed to get to grips with the round of 16 match.
Ramos continued his fine form in the second-half, finishing off a flowing move with a neat finish at the near post before providing an assist for Raphaël Guerreiro to score the fourth.
Manuel Akanji scored a consolation goal for Switzerland but there was still time for Ramos to score his third with a delightful dink over the goalkeeper. Rafael Leão ended the scoring with a sixth goal in added time.
The win against Switzerland was Portugal’s best performance of the tournament and begs the question as to whether Ronaldo will be able to fight his way back into the starting lineup for his side’s quarterfinal tie against Morocco on Saturday.
The 37-year-old did make a late appearance as a substitute on Tuesday, sparking a huge cheer from the crowd, but the match will be remembered for the birth of a new star in Portugal’s Ramos.
Why exactly Ronaldo was dropped is unclear. His performances of late have not been great but Santos was also unhappy with Ronaldo’s reaction after being subbed off against South Korea in its previous match.
Either way, the news of his absence from the starting lineup was the major talking point ahead of the crunch game.
All the cameras were pointed toward the Portuguese bench as the superstar took his seat alongside the other substitutes before kick-off.
Ronaldo, who has scored one goal at Qatar 2022, had previously started every match at a major tournament for Portugal since 2008, but his side didn’t appear to miss him on the pitch against Switzerland.
Without the veteran striker, the Portuguese outfit looked more energetic going forward and the young Ramos gave the Switzerland defenders nightmares with his intensity and quality in the final third.
Ronaldo, who had emerged from the tunnel straight-faced before kick-off, did seem to be enjoying his side’s performance though, smiling when 39-year-old Pepe became the oldest player to score in the knockout stages of a World Cup.
He also mustered up a smile as he came on as a late substitute for the final moments of the match.
Another blow for Ronaldo
In truth, though, it was another blow for the striker who has suffered a turbulent few weeks and who is entering the final chapter of his career.
The five-time Ballon d’Or was sacked by Manchester United after an explosive TV interview and he’s yet to sign for another club.
If the World Cup was to be a stage to showcase his skills to potential suitors, then it’s been a disappointment so far.
Despite scoring a penalty in the group stages, Ronaldo hasn’t looked sharp in Qatar and is a shadow of the player he once was.
The decision to drop him from the starting lineup was truly vindicated with Portugal looking far more threatening in attack. It was arguably the most impressive performance by any team at the tournament so far.
With all his experience, though, Ronaldo can still have a role to play in Portugal’s World Cup campaign but it’s yet to be seen whether that’s from the bench or in the starting lineup.