Fernando Santos refused to offer Cristiano Ronaldo a clear route back into his starting lineup after dropping him for Portugal’s scintillating 6-1 win over Switzerland, saying the matter had been closed but suggesting his future role is up in the air.
Portugal played with freedom and daring against opponents who could not handle their attack. The 21-year-old Benfica striker Gonçalo Ramos replaced Ronaldo, who had annoyed Santos with his reaction to being substituted during Friday’s defeat by South Korea, and promptly scored a hat-trick. It felt a deeply symbolic move to axe the country’s ageing all-time top scorer for a knockout tie that had looked hard to call. Ramos also set up a goal for Raphaël Guerreiro and will surely be impossible to leave out of the quarter-final against Morocco on Saturday.
Santos emphasised there were no remaining issues with Ronaldo but, asked whether the 37-year-old would have to accept a new function in the squad, remained vague about his prospects. “That is still something that has to be defined,” he said. “I have a very close relationship with him, I’ve known him since he was 19 at Sporting. Ronaldo and I never misinterpret the human and personal aspect with that of manager and player. I will always consider that he is a very important player to have in the team.
“[The matter] is something that is finished and solved. It is also important to look at this player’s history, he is one of the best players in the world and therefore all we have to do is come in collectively.”
Santos outlined the difference between the Portugal side that had been built around Ronaldo’s ageing legs and the youthful unit that brimmed with vitality on Tuesday night . “We wanted a team that played with a lot of fluidity,” he said. He explained Ramos, who was making his first international start, offered more movement. “Cristiano is more fixed, he stays in a more determined role towards the box,” he said. “Gonçalo has different characteristics: he is very dynamic and that’s what he ended up showing us.”
Asked directly whether Ronaldo would face Morocco, against whom he scored the winner in the 2018 group stage, Santos replied: “All the players who are with me can be used and if they are not in the starting XI they can play later.”
The Switzerland manager Murat Yakin was left to rue a fifth last-16 exit in six World Cup appearances. He accepted they had no answer to their rampant opposition. “We have to admit our opponent was better, faster and more offensive in the attack,” he said.