Cristiano Ronaldo was named on the bench again for Portugal’s quarter-final against Morocco at the 2022 World Cup, having already missed out on the starting XI in the emphatic 6-1 win over Switzerland in the last 16.
Goncalo Ramos hit a hat-trick as Portugal hammered the Swiss at the Lusail Stadium with the forward having come into the side after Fernando Santos took the huge decision to drop Ronaldo for the match. Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro and Rafael Leao were also on the scoresheet as Portugal laid down a marker ahead of their quarter-final against Morocco with the 37-year-old clearly not missed by his team.
Ronaldo did still emerge from the substitutes’ bench to play some part in the match – but as became the case at Manchester United before his high-profile forced exit, he is having to make do with being an impact sub rather than a starter.
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And his fears that he has been reduced to a bit-part player were heightened on Saturday when he was named among the substitutes for the last-eight meeting at Al Thumama Stadium. So can the former Real Madrid superstar accept his new role within the Portugal squad?
Let’s recap what the fall-out has been to Ronaldo being dropped amid hysterical reports of the forward apparently threatening to walk out on his team, reports that have been refuted but not successfully dismissed from the relentless news cycle surrounding the star.
WHY WAS RONALDO DROPPED BY SANTOS AT THE WORLD CUP?
Ronaldo, who had started all three group matches in the tournament, scoring once, looked to have been thoroughly displeased when he was substituted in Portugal’s 2-1 defeat by South Korea.
Raising his finger to his lips, the player claimed it was a misunderstanding and that he was actually just directing his ire towards an opposition player, although many did not buy that reasoning and interpreted it to be towards his manager.
“I didn’t like it,” said Santos pretty emphatically ahead of the Switzerland game and subsequently left his captain on the bench. Was it because of his reaction to being substituted? It is not entirely clear but that does seem to be a reasonable explanation.
Alternatively, Santos may have just made the decision on purely footballing grounds, sensing what many pundits and fans thought all along: that Portugal would be more energetic, vibrant and team-oriented without their star man in the starting line-up.
If this was the reason, that Santos simply wanted to confine Ronaldo to the bench to enable his other players to flourish in his absence, it certainly worked.
Speaking after the game, the 68-year-old quickly downplayed any suggestions of a rift with Ronaldo, saying: “There is no problem with our captain. We’ve been friends for years. We spoke before the game and he had no issue with my decision. He’s an example.”
Ramos, Ronaldo’s highly-successful replacement, added of the man he had usurped: “He’s the captain, he’s the leader and we always look forward to playing side by side with him.”
As for the ever-influential Pepe? “Ronaldo is happy and totally focused,” he said. “He knows the most important thing is the national team.”
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