LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — A chant of “RONALDO! RONALDO!” rampaged around the largest stadium in the World Cup, followed by loud cheers as the fans realized their idol would not be making it onto the pitch.
Cristiano Ronaldo was in fact in the Portuguese dugout, looking gloomy and still wearing a substitute’s vest. And the man who started instead of him on Tuesday was about to score a hat-trick.
After Ronaldo was dropped from the starting line-up by Portuguese coach Fernando Santos, Goncalo Ramos – the superstar striker’s unlikely replacement – immediately starred the team to a 6-1 win over Switzerland and into the quarter-finals of the World Cup to lead. .
Ramos, a 21-year-old striker who only made his Portugal debut last month, demonstrated the kind of clinical finishing Ronaldo was once known for, scoring the first goal in the 17th minute and adding others in the 51st and 67th.
No player had scored a hat-trick in his first World Cup start since German striker Miroslav Klose in 2002.
“Even in my wildest dreams I never thought about being part of the starting squad for the knockout phase,” said Ramos, an unknown striker who plays for Benfica and considers Ronaldo his football idol, along with Robert Lewandowski and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It was around the hour when fans at the 89,000-seat Lusail Stadium began begging Santos to use 37-year-old Ronaldo, and they got their wish in the 72nd minute. Portugal had completed the game by then, with defenders Pepe and Raphael Guerreiro also scoring. Rafael Leao scored another goal in stoppage time.
Ronaldo failed to score – he still hasn’t reached the knockout stages of his five World Cups – and after a brief celebration with his teammates after the final whistle, he left the field on his own, perhaps wondering where his career going to. from here.
He is currently without a club after leaving Manchester United midway through the World Cup, and may no longer be the starting starter for his country.
The rest of the Portuguese team lingered to applaud the fans on one side of the stadium. A quarter-final against Morocco awaits on Saturday and Santos must now decide whether to stay with Ramos or to reinstate Ronaldo, the top scorer in international men’s football and one of the best players ever.
Santos said it was a strategic decision to drop Ronaldo and not a disciplinary one.
“What we need to do is think collectively about this team,” Santos said before talking about Ronaldo. “I will always consider him a very important player in the team.”
That might now be a substitute and an experienced head in the dressing room instead of a starter.
Ramos was a surprise replacement – he had previously made only three substitute appearances for Portugal – and jumped at his chance.
Ramos, who was only 2 years old when Ronaldo made his Portuguese debut in 2003, scored the first hat-trick at this year’s World Cup.
He hit a rising shot with his left foot into the near post of Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer for the first goal, deftly shot through Sommer’s legs from close range for the second, then ran through to tap the goalkeeper for his third .
Ronaldo was seen smiling as he warmed up on the side of the pitch after Ramos’ second goal.
“Cristiano, as our captain, did what he always does,” said Ramos. “He helped us and encouraged us, not only myself but also my colleagues.”
Ramos even had an assist and passed the ball through for Guerreiro to score the fourth goal.
Ronaldo was lively as he came on and even thought he had scored as he ran through and fired a low left footed shot past Sommer. The goal was disallowed for offside, much to the chagrin of the fans – Portuguese or from other countries – who had come to see him play.
Switzerland’s lone goal came in the 57th minute when Manuel Akanji tapped in at the far post from a corner kick.
Switzerland lost in the round of 16 for the third World Cup in a row. The country has not reached the quarter-finals since the event was held in 1954.
Pepe took over the captain’s armband from Ronaldo and, at 39 years and 283 days, became the oldest player to score in the knockout stage of the World Cup.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80
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