Goncalo Ramos, replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo in the line-up, scores stunning hat-trick as Portugal progress to World Cup quarter-finals

He had big shoes to fill. He did so emphatically.

Goncalo Ramos, 21, replaced Cristiano Ronaldo in the starting line-up to get his first international start, and scored an outrageous hat-trick of goals as Portugal beat Switzerland 6-1 to set up a quarter-final with Morocco on Tuesday.

Much of the run-up to this match was dominated by the relationship between Portuguese coach Fernando Santos and captain Ronaldo. The 37-year-old is the highest goalscorer in the country’s history and one of the most renowned footballers in the world, but after a few lackluster group stage performances and a sour reaction following a substitution against South Korea, his place in the team had become insecure.

There were calls to bench the superstar, but most believed Santos would take the more conservative approach and continue with the striker. Not only did he make the bold decision to bench Ronaldo, but also knocked out Joao Cancelo for Diogo Dalot in defence. And Santos was rewarded for his courageous decisions with the free way his team attacked and a plethora of goals. The forwards were able to break through the central areas of the transition with pace, and with good interplay with each other, as opposed to forcing the ball wide and playing crosses for their talisman.

The first goal came out of nowhere, as Ramos made a clever touch down the right side of the box to play the ball into his path, and despite a tight angle, the ball past Yann Sommer’s near post into the roof of the net. Moments later, Pepe jumped high and mighty to score a header from a corner to give his side a two-goal lead at half-time and at the age of 39, making him the second-oldest goalscorer in World Cup history became.

Portugal came out of the break motivated to increase their score and kept the pressure high on the pitch. Dalot found space on the right after getting past his marker and fizzled a cross to the ground, cleverly shot between Sommer’s legs by Ramos for his second. Four minutes later, Raphael Guerreiro scored their fourth goal, finishing emphatically after receiving the ball on Ramos’ left following a breakaway.

Manuel Akanji gave Switzerland a consolation goal from a corner to make it 4–1, and the side briefly held onto the ball before another breakaway led to their capitulation. Bernardo Silva won the ball high up the pitch, which was picked up by Joao Felix – himself a brilliant game full of dizzying dribbles, fine one- and two-touch passes and two assists – whose clever through ball was given an even smarter finish by Ramos, as he drank it over Sommer to complete his hat-trick.

Portugal were not done yet, substitute Rafael Leao got the ball on the right side of the box, cut in with his right foot and curled one into the bottom corner for the goal of the day, rounding out the 6–1 win.

On the back of Portugal’s most convincing tournament victory in many years, and one of the best of the World Cup to date, Santos is likely to keep this blueprint for the remainder of their campaign. Ronaldo – who was given 20 minutes as a substitute but failed to make much of an impression – may need to spend a bit more time on the bench.

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