The public and the media were looking for Cristiano Ronaldo, but the Portugal coach decided to have the team that would give him the certainty of victory against Switzerland in the starting eleven.
Instead of CR7, coach Fernando Santos brought in Gonzalo Ramos and he was right. The superstar striker’s replacement became the team’s hero in a 6-1 win. Ramos, a 21-year-old striker who made his Portugal debut last month, demonstrated the kind of clinical finishing Ronaldo was once known for, scoring the opener in the 17th minute and adding others on 51 and 67.
No player had scored a hat trick in their first World Cup start since Germany striker Miroslav Klose in 2002.
“Not in my wildest dreams did I think of being part of the starting team for the round of 16,” said Ramos, a Benfica forward who has Ronaldo as his soccer idol along with Robert Lewandowski and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It was around game time when the fans at the Lusail Stadium began calling out the 37-year-old Ronaldo’s name, and they got their wish in the 72nd minute. Portugal had the game close by then, with defenders Pepe and Raphael Guerreiro also marking. Rafael Leao added another goal in discount.
Ronaldo did not score (he has not yet scored in the knockout stage in any of his five World Cups). Morocco is the next opponent and Santos now has to decide whether to keep Ramos or restore Ronaldo, the top scorer in international men’s soccer.
“What we have to do is think about this team collectively. I will always consider him a very important player to have on the team,” Santos said.
That now could be a substitute and an experienced boss in the locker room instead of a starter. Ramos was a surprise replacement (he had previously only made three substitute appearances for Portugal) and he took the opportunity from him.
Ramos, who was just 2 years old when Ronaldo made his Portugal debut in 2003, scored the first treble at this year’s World Cup.
“Cristiano, like our captain, did what he always does. He helped us and encouraged us, not only me but my teammates,” Ramos said.
Switzerland’s only goal came in the 57th minute when Manuel Akanji struck at the far post after a corner kick.
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