Portugal’s striker has always had the ability to make it all about him. But, on Tuesday, that applied to Goncalo Ramos and not Cristiano Ronaldo, as the young Portuguese forward vindicated his coach’s decision to drop the country’s greatest ever player with a hat-trick in Portugal’s 5-1 win over Switzerland. “I don’t know what to say. This is a dream come true,” said Ramos after the game.
Ahead of the final last-16 clash, all the talk was of Fernando Santos’ decision to drop 37-year-old Ronaldo to the bench. By the end, it was all about Ramos and the odd word about a man who predates even Ronaldo, after 39-year-old Pepe powered home the second with his head.
As emphatic as Pepe’s finish was, it didn’t come close to the sheer velocity of Ramos’ opener. Taking the ball with a man on his back, the 21-year-old from Benfica thundered into the top corner of the near post, with Yann Sommer wearing the expression of a man whose lunch had been swiped from under his nose without him noticing.
Portugal, who have lacked cohesion for most of the tournament, suddenly looked alive. Ramos’ movement, energy and confidence testing Sommer and bringing more out of Joao Felix, Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva and the rest of the supporting cast.
“If people have never heard of him, it is becuase they are not aware of the quality of the Portuguese league,” Fernandes told reporters of his country’s newest star. “Benfica have been doing really well in the Champions League. We are really happy for him. A hat-trick at his age is a big achievement.”
Ramos’ second came largely as a result of his sharp movement, with the striker darting across his marker to meet Diogo Dalot’s low cross and poke past Sommer.
As they had after Pepe’s goal, all the cameras turned quickly towards Ronaldo who grinned, clapped and celebrated with his fellow substitutes. Even the man who criticized his most recent club so openly he was sacked could not begrudge his compatriot’s recognition for a brilliant display. Well, as far as we can tell.
It got better. Raphael Guerreiro stroked home at the end of an excellent team move involving Ramos and Felix early in the second half to make his former Borussia Dortmund teammate Manuel Akanji’s header the scantest of consolations. Ramos’ third, a deft dink after another flowing move, was anything but meaningless.
Rafael Leao’s brilliant sixth was another demonstration of the ease with which Portugal dismantled a usually stubborn Swiss side with fluidity that just isn’t possible with Ronaldo as the focal point. It’s the same problem he faced at Manchester United. Time catches up with everyone eventually.
“Cristiano is doing his job and doing his part,” added Fernandes. “He is happy with the result. I don’t think people should be talking about this situation. Do you think anyone likes to be on the bench?”
When Ronaldo finally got off that bench to replace Ramos with less than 20 minutes left it was hard to escape the feeling that, in a broader sense, it was the wrong way round. Portugal will now face Morocco in the quarterfinals, after they beat Spain earlier in the day.
If things go well, it will be the first of three more games for Santos’ side in the 2022 World Cup. “Ronaldo is our team leader, he is our captain,” added Ramos. “Whether I play again next time is for others to decide,”
It’s hard to see how the coach leaves him out on Saturday but, regardless of age or his place in the pecking order, it’s not quite so hard to imagine Ronaldo having the final word.
Edited by: Kate Hairsine