LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — A chant of “Ronaldo! Ronaldo!” swept across the world’s largest stadium world Cup, Loud cheers followed as the fans realized their idol wasn’t coming onto the field.
Cristiano Ronaldo was, in fact, sitting in the Portugal dugout, looking sombre and still wearing his replacement bra. And the man who started in his place on Tuesday was close to completing a hat-trick.
After dropping Ronaldo out of the starting line-up in a bold call-up from Portugal coach Fernando Santos, Goncalo Ramos – unlikely replacement for the star striker – made himself an instant star by leading the team to a 6-1 victory over Switzerland and in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. .
Ramos, a 21-year-old striker who only made his debut for Portugal last month, showed the kind of finishing Ronaldo knew before by scoring the first goal in the 17th minute and adding two more in the 51st and 67th minutes.
No player has scored a hat-trick in their first appearance at a World Cup since German striker Miroslav Klose in 2002.
“I didn’t even think about my wildest dreams of being part of the starting squad for the knockout stage,” said Ramos, the little-known striker who plays for Benfica and considers Ronaldo his footballing idol alongside Robert Lewandowski and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Almost an hour passed since fans around the 89,000-seat Lusail Stadium began pleading for Santos to fetch the 37-year-old Ronaldo, and their wish was granted in the 72nd minute. Portugal sealed the match by then, defenders Pepe and Rafael Guerrero scoring twice. Rafael Leao added another goal in stoppage time.
Ronaldo didn’t score – he hasn’t yet scored in the knockout stages at any of his five World Cups – and after celebrating briefly with his teammates after the final whistle, he walked off the field alone, perhaps wondering where his career will go from here.
He is currently without a club after leaving Manchester United in the middle of the World Cup, and may not be a regular starter for his country.
The rest of the Portuguese team sat around cheering their fans at one end of the pitch. A quarter-final match awaits against Morocco on Saturday, and Santos must now decide whether to stick with Ramos or bring back Ronaldo, the top scorer in men’s international football and one of the greatest footballers of all time.
It was a strategic decision to drop Ronaldo and not a disciplinary decision, Santos said, after he expressed his dissatisfaction during his press conference on the eve of the match on Monday at the striker’s position after he was substituted against South Korea in the team’s last match.
“What we have to do is think about this team collectively,” Santos said before talking about Ronaldo. “I will always consider him a very important player in the team.”
This may now be an experienced substitute and boss in the locker room rather than a starter.
Ramos was a surprise substitute – he had previously only appeared three times as a substitute for Portugal – and seized his opportunity.
Ramos, who was just two years old when Ronaldo made his debut for Portugal in 2003, scored the first hat-trick in this year’s World Cup.
He drove a rising left-footed shot inside Switzerland goalkeeper Jan Sommer near the post for the first goal, then deftly slotted through Sommer’s legs from close range for the second, then ran to shoot the goalkeeper for the third.
Ronaldo was seen smiling as he warmed up on the sidelines after Ramos’ second goal.
“Cristiano, as our captain, did what he always did,” said Ramos. “He helped and encouraged us, not only me but my teammates.”
Ramos even got an assist, running the ball through Guerreiro to score the fourth goal.
Lively as he came on, Ronaldo thought he had scored when he ran across and drove a low left-footed shot past Sommer. The goal was disallowed for offside, to the dismay of the fans – Portuguese or from other countries – who had come to see him play.
Switzerland’s only goal came in the 57th minute when Manuel Akanji scored at the far post after a corner kick.
Switzerland lost in the round of 16 for the third consecutive World Cup. The country has not reached the quarter-finals since hosting it in 1954.
Pepe took over the captaincy from Ronaldo and became the oldest player to score in a World Cup knockout stage, at the age of 39 years and 283 days.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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