World Cup: Ronaldo reduced to superstar role on bench

As Ronaldo's replacement Ramos scores hat-trick in 6-1 rout of Switzerland


Cristiano Ronaldo was on Tuesday night reduced to the role of the superstar nobody wants after Portugal followed Manchester United’s lead in deciding they might just be better off without him.

And better off without him they certainly were as Portugal rewarded manager Fernando Santos’s courage in dropping his country’s sporting icon with the complete attacking performance and a 6-1 win over Switzerland that sets up a tantalising World Cup quarter-final against Morocco.

Santos was not only acquitted for his decision to bench Ronaldo after openly criticising his gestures when he was substituted in the last group game against South Korea, he hit the jackpot as his young replacement Goncalo Ramos seemed the real deal in netting a fabulous hat-trick against the Swiss.

It has been a bruising time for 37-year-old Ronaldo’s considerable pride and ego as first his Manchester United career ended in acrimony following public criticism of the Old Trafford giants and now Portugal did what was previously unthinkable, at least going as far back as 31 games and before Euro 2008 and dumped him from their starting line-up at a major tournament.

This was certainly the bravest selectorial call of this World Cup and the biggest of Santos’ eight-year time as coach of the Portuguese side.



With 16 minutes left to play, Santos relented and sent Ronaldo on for Joao Felix .

It was all vaguely awkward – even a touch embarrassing – as the fading talisman trotted on to make what felt like a personal appearance rather than a meaningful contribution in a World Cup knockout game.

There was an air of anticipation every time Ronaldo received the ball, those inside the arena desperate to see some of the old magic. They almost saw it when he rammed in a shot but the boos rang out as the offside flag went up.

Even Ronaldo’s brief spell on the field was stolen away from him when another bright young Portugal striker, Rafael Leao, came on and rounded of the rout with a finish, curled into the top corner.

Ronaldo may yet make a decisive contribution at this tournament – he is trying to attract a new club after all – but it is hard to see him making it as a starter against Morocco.

After being shown the door at Manchester United for his petulance and outspoken views on the club’s hierarchy, he now finds himself marginalised on territory where he must have thought he was even more untouchable with Portugal.

As the adage goes, Ronaldo was the future once. He increasingly seems like the past and the future for Portugal belongs to young stars such as Ramos and Leao.

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