LUSAIL, Qatar — By the fourth goal, even Cristiano Ronaldo, standing and clapping in front of the Portugal bench, could not complain. By the fifth, he could only offer a wry smile. Portugal was in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, and for a day even he knew that was a story bigger than Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo does not step out of the spotlight easily, and at 37 and newly unemployed he has desperately wanted to make his mark at what is almost certainly his final World Cup. His performances in the group stage, though, had not matched his substantial legend, and so on Tuesday night his coach, Fernando Santos, somewhat ruthlessly turned the page.
Ronaldo was dropped from Portugal’s lineup for its game against Switzerland. Gonçalo Ramos, a 21-year-old striker from the Portuguese team Benfica, got the nod instead, and the unenviable job of replacing the most prolific scorer in his country’s history. In a little more than an hour, Ramos then achieved an even more remarkable feat:
He had an entire nation, and an entire World Cup, wondering why he hadn’t been starting all along.
Making his first start for his country, Ramos scored a 67-minute hat trick to power Portugal to a 6-1 victory over Switzerland, and a date with surprising Morocco in the quarterfinals on Saturday.
The first had probably been the best of the bunch: a quick turn and a shot fired so hard into the roof of the net that it passed goalkeeper Yann Sommer so fast he couldn’t lift his hands. Or maybe he didn’t want to.
His second came six minutes after halftime, off a sharp low pass from Rúben Dias, and his third about 15 minutes later, placed on a tee for him on the dead run by João Felix.
Pepe, Raphaël Guerreiro and Rafael Leão added to Portgual’s haul, but there will be little talk beyond what Ramos did, and what Ronaldo did not.
As the clock ticked past the hour mark, and Switzerland valiantly scrambled in a goal to cut the deficit to 4-1, the fans called for Portugal’s victory cigar. “Ro-nall-do! Ro-nall-do!” they chanted over and over.
Santos, annoyed at the lost shutout and the lax defending that had allowed it, tuned it out as he prowled the grass in front of the dugout. He shouted. He pointed. He scowled. He did not, however, summon Ronaldo.
When Ramos got his third goal, though, and Portugal’s fifth, the old coach gave in to the crowd and the sentiment and to the story line. Ronaldo was told to get his jersey on, to get ready. With a thin smile, he strode forward, accepted the captain’s armband from Pepe, stepped across the line and bathed in the adoration.
The job, by then, was done. Portugal had won. It now has at least one more to play. It may do it with its most famous striker on the bench, and its most productive one on the field.
And no one, for now, not even Cristiano Ronaldo, can complain.