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World Cup round of 16: Portugal puts on a gala performance – without Ronaldo

The last time Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t allowed to play in Portugal’s national team from the start at a major tournament, the world was still fine: smartphones hadn’t yet intervened in human evolution.

At Euro 2008, Luiz Felipe Scolari let the young Ronaldo pause in the last preliminary round match against tournament hosts Switzerland, which was hardly explosive anymore. More than 14 years had to pass since then before a colleague Scolaris dared to put the national hero on the bench, and yes: Switzerland of all places was the opponent again. Ronaldo had earned the bench seat by ranting about his substitution against South Korea – hardly a fitting thank you for the patience coach Fernando Santos had shown with him up to that point.

This time it was really a painful break for the 37-year-old. It was about getting into the quarterfinals, and the colleagues put on a gala performance without him. When Ronaldo finally came on, Portugal were leading 5-1. While the audience, who had previously demanded their favorite pop star in chants, cheered his arrival with tremendous hooting, the real star of the evening left the pitch: center forward Goncalo Ramos, who has only been seen in two short appearances so far, scored with a hat trick and a big one Appearance shined. The game was decided early on, with substitute Leao making it 6-1, leaving Ronaldo with just one offside goal. The expert audience whistled at the referee when he correctly ruled out the goal.

At first it wasn’t just the spectators who had fun without the old champions – the Portuguese team felt the same way. They still had an old master in their ranks: 39-year-old Pepe took over the captain’s armband from Ronaldo, and he also contributed an important goal. He was the bald head of a team that lived out their passion for the game and didn’t let their opponent bother them at all.

In the quarterfinals against Morocco, Ramos should be fresh again

The Swiss had started the game ambitiously. As in the preliminary round matches, they did not play the lurking role of underdogs. Breel Embolo pushed forward with considerable stamina and assertiveness, but as a striker he was left alone too often. The Portuguese seemed a bit passive at first, but apparently they were just waking up.

Center forward Goncalo Ramos, who works for Benfica Lisbon, suddenly sounded the alarm. On a pass from the brilliant Joao Felix, he turned around defender Fabian Schär and sent the ball straight into the corner of the goal (17′). Yann Sommer’s reaction? No. As FIFA announced, the ball was traveling at 106 kilometers per hour.

The lead gave the Portuguese a euphoria that is not typical of their nature and their game. They were now the clearly superior eleven, the Swiss had to be careful not to give up the game at this stage. Sommer made a skillful save against Otavio – and was powerless again ten minutes later when Pepe climbed the highest between central defenders Schär and Akanji and headed in to make it 2-0.

The hopes of the Swiss that they were still a long way from losing when the score was zero-two were quickly dashed immediately after the break. Goncalo Ramo’s 15-minute highlight began: goal to make it 3-0, assist to Guerreiro’s 4-0, goal to make it 5-1. His substitution was not an act of ingratitude, but a distinction: in the quarter-finals against Morocco, Ramos should be back on his feet to fuel Portugal’s attack. For Ronaldo there is probably only a place on the substitutes’ bench – next to the place in the hearts of the Arab fans.

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