Cristiano Ronaldo’s role for the remainder of the World Cup is something that has to be “defined”, Portugal boss Fernando Santos said after dropping his captain for their emphatic last-16 win over Switzerland.
The 37-year-old watched from the bench as his replacement Goncalo Ramos scored a hat-trick in the 6-1 win to set up a quarter-final against Morocco.
Ronaldo, who did not start at a major tournament for the first time since Euro 2008, was eventually brought on as a 74th-minute substitute with Portugal 5-1 up.
Ronaldo left Manchester United last month under a cloud and has at times cast a shadow over his team in Qatar, where his manager expressed unhappiness about his reaction to being substituted against South Korea.
Asked about Ronaldo after the Switzerland win, Santos said: “That is still something that has to be defined.
“I have a very close relationship with him – I always have, I have known him since he was 19 years old.
“This relationship only develops, Ronaldo and I never interpret the human aspect of that of manager and player (in relation to) what we have to do during the match.
“I will always consider in my role that he is an important player to have in the team.”
When asked directly if Ronaldo would play against Morocco, Santos replied bullishly: “Ronaldo will definitely (be involved), all the players on the bench can be used, if they are not in the starting line-up they can play later.
“It is important to look at the example of this player’s history, he is one of the best players in the world at playing professionally, being captain – all we have to do is think about this team collectively.”
Meanwhile, Ronaldo’s replacement Ramos says the former Real Madrid forward remains the team’s “leader”.
The 21-year-old said: “Cristiano Ronaldo talks to me and everyone in the team. He’s our leader and always tries to help.
“I don’t know if I will start the next game, that’s up to the coach, I have to work as hard as I can and then we’ll see.”
Neville: Ronaldo petulance has to stop
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville speaking on ITV before Portugal’s win:
“When it happened at Manchester United, the suggestion was that Erik ten Hag was trying to make a move on Ronaldo, but Fernando Santos is a manager who has had an unbelievable relationship with Ronaldo for eight years.
“There are a lot of Ronaldo fans who aren’t willing to tell him the truth, I think he does need to listen to the truth. It’s becoming a bit of a scruffy end.
“The petulance, the sulking, it’s got to stop because it doesn’t reflect well on him at all. His long-term legacy is set as one of the great all-time players, but in the short term he’s got to do a lot better.
“Is the Juventus manager wrong? The Manchester United manager wrong? And now the Portugal manager wrong? Three of them have now done the same thing with him.
“Ronaldo’s singlemindedness over the years has been one of his great strengths. His determination to be the best in the world, score the most goals, break all the records, the fight with [Lionel] Messi.
“But there comes a point where you’ve got to think about the collective, and that is your team-mates in the dressing room.
“Leaving games early like he did at Manchester United twice, stomping off the other day against South Korea when actually some of his team-mates – Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes – didn’t start.
“It’s coming to the point where Ronaldo is not accepting the end of his career very well but, on the other hand, if Spain [who lost to Morocco on penalties in the last 16] had him up front in the final half hour of their game he would have probably got them through!”
Carragher: Ronaldo was dropped for his performances
Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher believes Ronaldo was dropped for performance reasons and not his reaction to being brought off against South Korea.
He said on social media: “Would Santos the manager of Portugal drop Ronaldo just because of his reaction to being subbed in the last game? A manager at club level maybe yes. With possibly 3 games to a WC final.
“I think he has been left out because of his performances not his reaction.”
Portugal flourish without Ronaldo
Analysis from Sky Sports’ Adam Bate:
A free-kick was won and the ball dutifully tossed to Cristiano Ronaldo. The crowd had chanted for his introduction and then cheered wildly when it came. Here he was over the ball, that theatrical stance. And the shot was fired into the wall. Play could resume.
It was an illuminating passage of play in its own way, coming as it did with his team 4-1 up. The game had been won in – maybe even because of – his absence. The contrast between the Ronaldo show and the Portugal show that preceded it was striking.
Replaced by Goncalo Ramos, ostensibly as a result of his response to being substituted against South Korea, what followed was a reminder that there are other talents in this squad. Talents that showed against Switzerland that they could shine given the chance.
Of course, Portugal succeeding without Ronaldo is nothing new. The most famous victory in the country’s history came in the final of Euro 2016 following his early injury. But that was stoicism. This was something else. This was a thrashing. This was a team unleashed.
Even so, nobody, not even Fernando Santos with all that he has seen in the game, could have anticipated what followed. The first hat-trick of the tournament. The country’s biggest win of the knockout stages. World Cup hopes not just alive but revitalised, resurgent.
It was Ramos’ day but maybe it could yet be Portugal’s tournament. As the world’s media looked to the bench, Ronaldo still owned the camera but Joao Felix owned the football. Alongside Bruno Fernandes, they relished Ramos’ movement ahead of them.
There was still time for Ronaldo to crash the ball into the net from an offside position, a glimpse of the finishing ability that has not left him. But when Rafael Leao added the sixth, the message could not have been clearer. This show will go on without him.
Time catching up with Ronaldo
Sky Sports News chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol in Qatar:
“Time catches up with us all and time is catching up with Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Manchester United decided they could do without him and, this evening, Portugal decided they could do without him as well. And his replacement – wow. What a performance by Goncalo Ramos.
“The reason Fernando Santos picked him ahead of Ronaldo is because he thought he was the better option for this evening’s game. He’s been in brilliant form for Benfica as well.
“I’m not sure what Santos is going to decide to do for the quarter-final against Morocco. He won the Euros with Portugal so the whole country is behind him – they trust him totally.
“A poll in the Portuguese media today showed 70 per cent of respondents thought Ronaldo should be dropped. I don’t think Santos was swayed by public opinion. I think he was just a little bit disappointed with the way Ronaldo behaved when he was substituted in the previous game against South Korea.
“I think he was a little bit miffed to begin with. A lot of people in the crowd had bought tickets because they wanted to see Ronaldo. There were so many cameras on him that I think, when the goals started going in, he seemed to cheer up and take part in some of the celebrations. He did come on for the final 20 minutes, although he didn’t get on the scoresheet.
“Tonight is about the future of Portugal and the future of Portugal is not Cristiano Ronaldo. I’ve got a feeling is future is a few miles over the border from Qatar in Saudi Arabia.”