Before kick-off, everyone was talking about the abandonment of Cristiano Ronaldo. Full time, it was all about Goncalo Ramos.
The cameras were fixed on Portugal’s all-time top scorer, whose reaction to being substituted in his country’s previous match angered coach Fernando Santos, as he took his place as a substitute in the game of the last 16 games against Switzerland at the World Cup in Qatar. .
The bench was surrounded by photographers desperate to snap a photo of a disgruntled Ronaldo missing from a Portuguese starting XI at a major tournament for the first time since 2008.
But attention quickly turned to the action on the pitch, as his 21-year-old replacement seized his chance with a magnificent hat-trick in a statement. Victory 6-1.
An introduction to the World Cup to remember
When Portugal manager Santos made the decision to demote Ronaldo to the bench for the game, he couldn’t have hoped for a better result.
Not only did his team score six goals in a World Cup knockout tie, but the youngster he called on scored three goals on the biggest night of his career.
At 21 years and 169 days, Ramos is the youngest player to score a World Cup hat-trick since Hungary’s Florian Albert in 1962.
The Benfica striker needed just 17 minutes to announce himself to Qatar as he took a throw-in before blasting the ball past Swiss keeper Yann Sommer at the near post to put Portugal back on their feet.
He almost ended the game as a contest soon after half-time with a tricky second, stopping at the near post to meet Diogo Dalot’s low cross and make it 3-0.
A no-look pass helped Raphael Guerreiro before Ramos sealed his stunning hat-trick – the first of this World Cup – with an assured chip on Sommer.
Substituted after 74 minutes, he finished the match having made the most shots (six), shots on target (five) and touches in the opposition box (six), in addition to his three goals on an expected goals value of 1.28.
As Ramos was substituted, former England goalkeeper Rob Green said on BBC Radio 5 Live: “It’s been spectacular from Goncalo Ramos. The World Cup performance so far, with everything going on. passed around.”
Who is Ramos?
While Ronaldo, with eight World Cup goals, is yet to score in six knockout matches for Portugal at the tournament, Ramos already has three.
Ramos, who developed through Benfica’s youth system, had only played a total of 33 minutes for Portugal in three appearances for his country before facing Switzerland on Tuesday.
This included a goal in a 23-minute friendly against Nigeria in November, before a two-minute and eight-minute appearance in the group matches against Ghana and Uruguay respectively.
He then remained an unused substitute as an already qualified Portugal lost to South Korea.
But, having secured his first senior international start in the knockout stages of the World Cup, he delivered a performance that suggested he had been doing this for years.
With 14 goals and six assists in 21 games for Benfica this season – including seven goals in his last six league appearances – Ramos is certainly not a player short on confidence at the moment.
But he could only have dreamed of how his first World Cup start would turn out.
He is the first player to score a hat-trick in his first World Cup start since Germany’s Miroslav Klose in 2002 – the men’s World Cup all-time top scorer – and he is the second-youngest Portuguese scorer in the history of the World Cup, after Ronaldo in 2006. .
And, after this spectacular performance, he will have the feeling of having done everything to ensure a starting place in the quarter-finals against Morocco.
What next for Ronaldo?
Asked about full-time Ronaldo, Ramos said: “Cristiano Ronaldo speaks to me and everyone in the team. He’s our leader and he always tries to help.”
The end of the former Real Madrid, Juventus and Manchester United striker’s streak of 31 games starting at major tournaments for his country was always going to be big news.
But even he may have been surprised by the commotion around the dugout before kick-off, when the closest he could get to the sections of the crowd who had been clamoring for his second-half introduction was a finish disallowed for a clear offside.
Given Ramos’ influence, there is no guarantee that the 37-year-old Ronaldo will reclaim his starting spot against Morocco on Saturday.
Portugal boss Santos said he ‘really didn’t like’ Ronaldo’s reaction to being substituted after 65 minutes in the loss to South Korea in the final group game, which established comparisons with how his time at Manchester United abruptly ended last month.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner denied directing a blast at his manager but found himself among the substitutes against Switzerland nonetheless.
Becoming the first man to score at five World Cups earlier in the tournament, this devastating team performance could force Ronaldo to accept a lesser role for his country.
Speaking on ITV, former England striker Ian Wright said: “They’re a team that could easily go all the way and Ronaldo can still really contribute.
“If he has it all in his head, he could end up scoring the winning goal for them in the final.”