Portugal beat Switzerland 6-1 on Tuesday evening, thus obtaining qualification for the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Qatar, but not only. Precisely in the match that for many could have meant the end of an era – that of Cristiano Ronaldo, excluded from the starting lineup for disciplinary reasons – Portugal reacted by getting a landslide victory against a difficult opponent to face, moreover after a path that has not been very exciting so far.
It had been 14 years since Portugal played a match in an international tournament without Cristiano Ronaldo starting. Portuguese coach Fernando Santos had decided to exclude him due to his reactions after his substitution in the last group game defeat against South Korea. His place against Switzerland was therefore entrusted to 21-year-old Gonçalo Ramos, Benfica forward who became immediately the great protagonist of the evening.
Ramos gave Portugal the lead after a quarter of an hour of play and effectively closed the game in the second half by scoring two more goals. In doing so he became only the second player to score a hat-trick in his first match as a starter at a World Cup after Germany’s Miroslav Klose in 2002. Moreover, already with the first of three goals against Switzerland he overtook Ronaldo among the Portuguese goalscorers in the knockout stages live coverage of the World Cup, given that Ronaldo has never managed to score in these matches so far.
Overall, Portugal’s performance was more than surprising. Despite the great quality of its players, especially in the offensive departments, the team had not yet convinced, despite having won two of the three matches played in the group stage. The reaction came in the most difficult match. In fact, Switzerland had proved to be a solid team in defense and able to effectively exploit the few goal chances created. He had beaten Cameroon, then against Brazil he had lost by just one goal and in the decisive match he had eliminated Serbia by beating them from behind 3-2.
Portugal’s performance – which in addition to the six goals scored, had nine shots on target, conceded only one shot on target to Switzerland and did not pick up any bookings – is now being taken as a first real bid for more important goals. The semifinals — which it has reached only once in its history, in 2006 — are within its reach, given that in the quarterfinals it will face Morocco, the surprise of this World Cup but also considered the weakest of the eight still in the game and with a style wait-and-see similar to the Swiss one.
However, it remains to be understood what will become of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese captain came on with fifteen minutes to go, scored a goal but it was disallowed and at the end of the game he was the first to return to the dressing rooms, while the rest of the team celebrated with the fans in the stands. Fernando Santos said that the decision to exclude him was dictated by valid reasons and that his role as captain is not in doubt. Given the results, however, it doesn’t mean that Ronaldo can’t stay on the bench any longer.