Goncalo Ramos found the back of the net thrice as an energetic Portugal side demolished Switzerland 6-1 on Tuesday night to advance to the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 2006. Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro, and Rafael Leao were also on the score sheet for The Selecao as the 2016 European Champions crushed a Murat Yakin-led Swiss side.
Before the match, there were many talks about Fernando Santos" rather bizarre decision to leave Cristiano Ronaldo out of the starting XI.
The 37-year-old has always started for Portugal at both World Cup games and other tournaments (with very few exceptions) but was made to sit on the bench today, coming on as a substitute in the 74th minute, only after his country was 5-1 up.
Fernando Santos did get his numbers right, opting for the same 4-3-3 formation he fielded in the 2-1 loss to South Korea and a slight variant of the style employed in the 2-0 win over Uruguay.
A Team Without Ronaldo
Ronaldo"s absence on the pitch did bring more freedom to the Portuguese players as it was evident the 5-time Ballon d"Or winner was not really needed.
Portugal fared well without their star man. As a matter of fact, they"ve been splendid without him in Qatar. Ronaldo"s contribution to the team has been miniature compared to the likes of Bruno Fernandes.
Fernandes" being the most important player so far in the Portuguese side at Qatar is a no-brainer. Before the match against the Swiss side, Fernandes had the greatest involvement in Portugal"s goals at this tournament, and he still has. The Manchester United man delivered the cross that Pepe headed home to put Portugal up at 2-0 in the first half.
Portugal looked flawless against the Swiss. They were a dangerous side that played without the weight of Ronaldo on their shoulders. The Swiss looked like a disorganized side that couldn"t hold their defence compactly. There was a lot of space between, the defence being really loose and allowing the Portuguese attackers to dart through freely as they wished.
Ramos really brought that finisher"s energy to the pitch. Even though he spurned a few chances, the Benfica youngster did play at a World Cup level, quite unusual for a 21-year old, exuding so much confidence (exclusive to players like Mbappe and Haaland).
The decision to play Diogo Dalot as a wingback instead of Joao Cancelo also worked well. Cancelo is an excellent player, but he"s not really lived up to expectations at this outing. He"s not been so excellent with the delivery of crosses, and Dalot filled in the gap well. As a matter of fact, he contributed to Ramos" hattrick, delivering the assist that led to the former"s third goal.
Ronaldo"s Response to Fernando Santos" decision
Even though Selecao thrashed their European counterparts, it appears the five-time Ballon d"Or winner may not have been satisfied. After the match, Ronaldo applauded the fans but was the first Portuguese to head down the tunnel. Fernando Santos may just have bruised his ego here.
Recall that Cristiano Ronaldo"s strained relationship with former boss, United manager, Erik Ten Hag, was fueled by an occasion similar to this.
But ultimately, what is best for the team is the best for the team, regardless of who gets satisfied or not. If Ronaldo starting on the bench would make the rest of the Portuguese squad (players like Fernandes and Felix) freer, then it certainly needs to be done. The team and its cause come first before any player. It would be best for Ronaldo to understand the decision of the coach and his trying to bring out the best in the team.
Portugal is now in the quarter-finals and will lock horns with Morroco on Saturday evening at the Al-Thumama stadium in Qatar.
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