Cristiano Ronaldo watched from the bench as Portugal opened the floodgates with Goncalo Ramos scoring a hat-trick in their 6-1 thumping of Switzerland, sending the Portuguese to the quarter-finals.
Cristiano Ronaldo being benched after his angry reaction to being substituted in Portugal’s loss to Korea was the headline before the game commenced. However, as the players took to the pitch, they showed how well they can take care of the business without their main man. A 21-year-old filled in his boots and how.
Goncalo Ramos opened the scoring in the 16th minute when he received the ball from Felix inside the area and turned to blast the ball into the top corner of the near post past Sommer.
Ramos didn’t have to wait long in the second half to get his second. It was two classic bits of wing play and Center forward movement by Dalot and Ramos, as the former beat his man on the right to put the ball in the box, with Ramos getting across his, to finish the move into the near post. 3-0 to Portugal.
Ramos was then involved as a creator when Otavio’s beautiful backheel pass on the left wing released Felix on a counterattack. Felix found Ramos, who on the turn, spotted Guerreiro and slotted the ball for the left-back to get in on the act.
Ramos then went on to secure his hat trick. Silva’s pass found Felix in the center, who released a perfectly weighted pass for Ramos to latch onto and dink the ball deliciously past an onrushing Sommer into the left-hand corner.
Ronnie, Another Cog In The Wheel..?
Ramos’s performance had everything you would want your center forward to do. Finishing, movement, defensive actions, and getting involved in the build-up. Many of the things one doesn’t see or expect a 38-year-old Cristiano to do.
Add to that the constant pressure of always playing the ball to him, even when he isn’t in the best of positions, making the play predictable and the moaning and groaning that comes when he doesn’t get the ball early or when his runs are ignored.
Not to say Cristiano Ronaldo still isn’t a world-class poacher. I belong to the Roy Keane school of thought, which believes that his struggles this season are as much down to his lack of pre-season and overall game time as any other factor, if not more. The same aging legs produced 24 goals last season for a horrid Manchester United side.
Enough to suggest it could easily have been 30 goals or more had he played for a more balanced side like that of Chelsea. The question is, are these traits enough to make a team revolve around him, take his petulance that comes with it, or is it he who needs to revolve around the demands of the team?
Ronaldo was always petulant. He was never known for defensive contributions or tracking back or playing in a “system”. With him and Messi, the case was always of the team playing in a system and them doing what they do.
The difference was while other top-class strikers were giving 25 goals a season along with their work rate, tracking back, and other “sacrifices” for the team, Cristiano Ronaldo was giving 40-50 goals a season, even 60 at times. The reason being he wasn’t just a poacher.
He was a flying winger, with enough pace to be one of the fastest men on earth, trickery that would make the best defenders in the world shiver at the thought of being one-on-one with him, shot power that would make his 40-yard strikes as much of threat as any strike in the world and the finisher’s instinct and the movement, that he still carries. When you have a player who is outscoring teams in a season, you make him the system.
But now, finishing and movement inside the box are all Cristiano Ronaldo is left with, even on his best days. Enough to call him a world-class player, but just among other world-class talents in a team like Portugal.
Thus his needs are not beyond that of others, his importance doesn’t exceed that of other names on the team sheet and his attitude should be in line with whatever the norm is inside the camp. Not to say that on his day, he might not be better than other players on the team, but that’s the case with many of the world-class talents at Portugal’s disposal, from Bruno to Felix to Leao.
The dilemma for Coach Santos is that it might be ok for Portugal to not play him against Switzerland or even Morocco for that matter. But when the big boys come knocking, the Frances, Argentinas, and Brazils of the world, in one-off matches of huge importance, in the finals, and semifinals, moments will matter as much as systems.
And no one in the Portuguese team can boast of a similar knack for scoring, either from a moment of individual brilliance or a scruffy chance, other than one of the greatest players and probably the most clutch player of all time.
And you don’t need to roll back the years to find that. Villareal, Atlanta, and Antonio Conte, who faced a 37-year-old version of Cristiano Ronaldo, would tell you a similar tale. Does Cristiano still have that killer’s instinct or maybe powers do get wanned in periods as short as three months, this is the bet Santos will have to take in the coming days.