Cape Town – A slick Portugal thrashed Switzerland 6-1 on Tuesday evening and stormed into the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Qatar.
Portugal dropped a bombshell when they dropped Cristiano Ronaldo from their run-on XI. However, his replacement Goncalo Ramos scored a stunning hat-trick to demonstrate how lethal the team can be even when the Ronaldo is warming the bench.
IOL Sport’s Herman Gibbs gives us five takeaways from Tuesday’s encounter.
Ramos led the 6-1 onslaught to justify his selection
With Ronaldo reduced to an onlooker on the substitutes’ bench, replacement striker Ramos needed just 17 minutes to score. It was an early confirmation that Portugal manager Fernando Santos had made the right call to drop the out-of-form Ronaldo.
The 37-year-old former Manchester United star has been poor lately and his exclusion was not totally unexpected.
Ramos became the first player to score a hat-trick in his first World Cup start since Miroslav Klose for Germany in 2002. Some might be surprised by this performance from a player making his first international start, but this display was reflective of Ramos’ season so far.
Fernando is on song
Much like the ABBA song Fernando, the Portugal manager Santos is proving to be a hit with fans, especially since the team has reached the last eight in great style.
Santos is not one to mince his words and left no doubt that Ronaldo’s Portugal future is up in the air and that his role in the squad has not yet been defined.
“That is still something that has to be defined,” he said after the match. “I have a very close relationship with him, I’ve known him since he was 19 at Sporting. Ronaldo and I never misinterpret the human and personal aspect with that of manager and player. I will always consider that he is a very important player to have in the team.”
Bruno winning bruising midfield battles
United midfielder Bruno Fernandes has been winning bruising midfield battles to allow Portugal to impose themselves on opponents and has become a key player for Portugal.
Bruno laid on a goalmouth cross from a corner which the 39-year-old Pepe met and scored Portugal’s second goal. This was Fernandes’ fifth assist he lies second behind France’s Kylian Mbappe who has seven in Qatar.
He has long been highly rated by Jose Mourinho who said: “He can pass, he can score. He can get penalties, he can score penalties, he can score free-kicks. He has a lot to give.”
Pepe, Portugal’s stand-in captain, leads from the front
Veteran Pepe, wearing the captain’s armband in Ronaldo’s absence, is ageing like fine red wine. On Tuesday, the 39-year-old became the second oldest player to score a goal at the World Cup (Roger Milla of Cameroon was 42 when he scored).
From a corner kick by Bruno, Pepe made a run from the edge of the penalty box and soared over Swiss centre-back Manuel Akanji to score with a powerful header. However, Pepe’s goal is the oldest by a player in the knockout rounds, as Milla’s came in group play.
Football romantics were touched by Pepe who ran over to Ronaldo when he joined the fray as a substitute. He took the captain’s armband and wrapped it around Ronaldo’s arm.
Will Ronaldo again warm the bench against Morocco?
Ronaldo didn’t have much time to prove himself after joining the fray as a late second-half substitute. After the match, Ronaldo pulled off his familiar United stunt and was the first Portugal player down the tunnel while his teammates were celebrating.
Everything points to Portugal fielding an unchanged team and it’s likely that Ronaldo, along with Joao Cancelo and Ruben Neves will again be on the bench against Morocco.