Can one man’s absence make a team better? The answer might not be one that Cristiano Ronaldo fans would want to hear.
CR7 was benched after three peripheral games and Portugal was unshackled from the burden of constantly feeding its goal-hungry captain. He was loud in passion during the national anthem, but the rage, surely, was simmering somewhere in the pits of his guts.
Without the larger-than-life shadow of Ronaldo dwarfing everyone around, Portugal purred like a new machine after the yearly service tuning and replacement of old nuts and bolts. And the five opening goals were the rewards that came, and Portugal football’s patron saint was paying the price.
Goncalo Ramos was the focal point of this attack, and he had a hattrick of goals in his first senior international start as the midfield troika of Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva and Joao Felix used the mobility upfront to unlock the gates of the usually bolted Swiss citadel.
“We wanted a team that played with a lot of fluidity. Cristiano is more fixed; he stays in a more determined role towards the box. Gonçalo has different characteristics: he is very dynamic and that’s what he ended up showing us,” coach Fernando Santos explained his rationale behind dropping the talisman later.
Ramos’ power-packed first whizzed past Mathias Sommer and almost tore the net apart, while it was old man Pepe who ghosted between two Swiss defenders to head home the next.
And Ronaldo, too, was sulking no more, joining the celebration with his aged mate.
The one-way traffic continued even after the change of halves, with Portugal’s third arriving when Diego Dalot threaded in a pass that allowed Ramos to sneak ahead of his marker Eray Comert and boot it through the legs of Sommer. The Swiss backline was failing to plug the holes and Raphael Guerreiro ran through one to control a ball from Ramos. With no barricade to shepherd him wide, he took his time to aim and finish with a crisp left-foot drive.
Ramos’ hattrick was completed after an end-to-end move started by Diogo Costa in the Portugal goal. After two swift touches, he chipped the ball above Sommer’s dangling legs.
In between, Manuel Akaji toed in a consolation for Switzerland, but its fans were too demoralised to even notice this strike.
And finally, Ronaldo was introduced, and the crowd roared to reassure him of their undying love. The next 18 minutes (+ 4 stoppage time) were his to give this result that Ronaldo gloss, but his goal was ruled out for offside, and Eusebio stayed ahead of him in Portugal’s all-time World Cup scorers list.
It was instead the young Rafael Leao who produced the last bit of magic with a solo curving effort to seal this 6-1 mauling and set up a quarterfinals date with Morocco’s desert lions.