LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) – “Ronaldo! Ronaldo!” They surrounded the huge stadium world cup, Loud jeers broke out as fans realized their idol had not made it to the stadium.
Cristiano Ronaldo, indeed, sat in the Portugal dugout, looking dapper and still wearing a change bag. His replacement on Tuesday was on course to complete the hat-trick.
After Ronaldo was dropped from the starting line-up following a bold call by Portugal coach Fernando Santos, the superstar striker’s replacement, Goncalo Ramos, made himself an instant star as he led the team to the World Cup quarter-finals in a 6-1 win over Switzerland. .
Ramos, a 21-year-old forward who made his Portugal debut last month, displayed the clinical finishing Ronaldo is known for when he scored the first goal in the 17th minute and added others in the 51st and 67th minutes.
No player has scored a hat-trick in his first World Cup start since Germany striker Miroslav Klose in 2002.
“Not even in my wildest dreams did I think about being in the starting team for the knockout stage,” said Ramos, an unheralded striker who plays for Benfica and considers Ronaldo his footballing idol along with Robert Lewandowski and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Fans throughout the 89,000-seat Lucille Stadium began pleading with Santos to bring on the 37-year-old Ronaldo and got their wish in the 72nd minute. By then Portugal had closed the game, with defenders Pepe and Rafael Guerrero also scoring. Rafael Leo added another goal in stoppage time.
Ronaldo did not score – he has yet to reach the knockout stage in his five World Cups – and after celebrating briefly with his teammates following the final whistle, he left the stadium wondering where his life was headed. From here.
He is currently without a club after leaving Manchester United at the World Cup and can no longer be a starter for his country.
The rest of the Portugal team hung around at one end of the stadium to applaud its fans. With a quarter-final against Morocco on Saturday, Santos must now decide whether to join Ramos or bring back Ronaldo, the top scorer in men’s international football and one of the game’s greatest players.
Santos said dropping Ronaldo was a strategic and moral decision, expressing displeasure with the striker’s attitude in the team’s final group game against South Korea during his pre-match news conference on Monday.
“We have to think collectively about this team,” Santos said before talking about Ronaldo. “I will always consider him to be the most important player to have in the team.”
It may be a replacement and experienced head in the locker room right now rather than a starter.
Ramos was a surprise substitute – he had previously only made three substitute appearances for Portugal – and earned his chance.
Ramos, who was just 2 years old when Ronaldo made his debut for Portugal in 2003, scored his first hat-trick at this year’s World Cup.
He drove a rising left-footed shot past Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer at the near post for the first goal, flicked it deftly past Sommer’s legs from close range for the second, then raced to chip past the goalkeeper for his third.
Ronaldo was smiling as he warmed up on the sidelines after Ramos’ second goal.
“Cristiano, as our captain, did what he always does,” Ramos said. “He helped us and inspired us, not only me, but also my colleagues.”
Ramos assisted to pass the ball to Guerrero to score the fourth goal.
Ronaldo was lively on the field and thought he had scored when he ran up and fired a low left-footed shot past Sommer. The goal was disallowed for offside, much to the annoyance of Portuguese or other fans who had come to watch him play.
Switzerland’s only goal came in the 57th minute when Manuel Akanji tapped in at the far post after a corner kick.
Switzerland lost in the round of 16 for the third consecutive World Cup. The country has not advanced to the quarter-finals since hosting the tournament in 1954.
Pepe, who took over from Ronaldo as captain, became the oldest player to score in the knockout stages of the World Cup at 39 years, 283 days.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports