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Bitter pill for Cristiano Ronaldo

Gonçalo Ramos scored a hat trick against the Swiss and offered plenty of arguments to play ahead of the captain, who remained in the gym the day after.

Doha (Qatar)
Portugal's forward #07 Cristiano Ronaldo smiles during the Qatar 2022 World Cup round of 16 football match between Portugal and Switzerland at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha on December 6, 2022. (Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP)

The decision to start Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench in last night’s Round of 16 clash with Switzerland turned into a national debate in Portugal. In fact it turned out to be the right call. Gonçalo Ramos, the 21-year-old who was chosen ahead of Cristiano, scored a hat trick in the 6-1 win - his first ever start with the national team.

“Cristiano continues to be an important player for us,” coach Fernando Santos said after the match. Santos did not say whether he plans to keep Gonçalo Ramos in his starting XI for the quarter final clash with Morocco, pointing out that they are different players. But considering the aura that currently surrounds the Benfica striker after his three-goal haul, it would be strange to see him demoted back to the bench.

In a poll conducted by sports daily A Bola, 91% of those who took part want Ramos to remain in the starting line-up while over 70% of those wanted Cristiano to be dropped from the side a few days ago. It’s clear in Portugal that they would prefer to see a talented youngster with spark and energy like Gonçalo Ramos playing ahead of a physically-diminished veteran like Cristiano.

Yet Fernando Santos praised Cristiano’s substitute in coming on as a late sub. “He has shown to be a great captain,” the coach told reporters. It was a night of contrasts for those watching the game from the stands at Lusail stadium. While 80,000 supporters chanted Cristiano’s name, urging the coach to bring him on, Gonçalo Ramos was putting the ball away against the Swiss as CR7 looked on from his warm-up exercises on the touchline.

There is only previous case of a player scoring a hat trick on their World Cup debut - Miroslav Klose did it in 2002. Ramos’ three goals confirmed that Benfica might have been right to sell Darwin Núñez to Liverpool for 80 million last summer - his replacement will soon be worth the same if he continues with more performances as colossal as his one against Switzerland. Not even Cristiano can compete with that.

Cristiano stays in the gym

Logically, hours after the Switzerland game, the media was keen to get a glimpse of Cristiano at the Portugal camp. But he was nowhere to be seen. Like all of those who came on as substitutes, he was supposed to train with the group of players who didn’t feature in the match. However, despite not having any apparent injury or physical discomfort, he stayed in the gym working alongside those who started against Switzerland. A gesture that came as a surprise to many but was not defended in any way by the federation.