Goncalo Ramos, the accidental striker who replaced Cristiano Ronaldo

Despite Portugal having a striker in five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, Goncalo Ramos was chosen to start for their round of 16 against Switzerland.

He never really played as a striker at the academy where he was. That happened by chance. The actual striker was injured and took his place, scoring two goals and making the position his.

Tuesday had less to do with chance. Despite Portugal having a striker in five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, Goncalo Ramos was chosen to start for their round of 16 against Switzerland.

And just like that time at the academy, the Benfica striker has made the position his own, scoring a stunning hat-trick in what was his first start for his national team.

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Ramos joined the club’s Seixal academy when he was 12. Son of a former Farense player, Marco Ramos, it didn’t take long for him to make the leap. When he was 16-17 years old, he played regularly for the youth teams, albeit as a midfielder. That didn’t really matter though as he still scored 25-30 goals a season.

Portugal’s Goncalo Ramos celebrates his fifth goal and his hat-trick. (Reuters)

Top scorer at the 2019 European Under-19 Championship, a tournament in which Portugal finished second, it was only a matter of time before Ramos broke into the first team. In July 2020, he came on as an 85th minute substitute against Desportivo Aves and wasted no time. The Olhao boy scored twice to become the first Benfica player to win a brace on his debut since former Wales international Mark Pembridge in 1998.

It also meant that Ramos scored for four different Benfica teams in a single season (the juniors, the under-23s, the B team and the first team).

It was then a no-brainer for Benfica, who after selling Darwin Nunez to Liverpool for €80 million in the summer, found their replacement from within.

Portugal’s Goncalo Ramos kisses the ball after the match after scoring a hat-trick. (Reuters)

Ramos’ good start to the 2022 season earned him his first senior call-up for Portugal’s Nations League fixtures in September. The top scorer in Portugal’s Primeira Liga was instrumental in Benfica’s qualification for the Champions League group stage – scoring a hat-trick against Midtjylland – and in Benfica’s 13-win domestic campaign from 13 games.

After the U19 European Championship, the boy from Olhao said: “I want to win some competitions, such as championships, Champions League, European, World Cup.”

And on the biggest stages he did just that, scoring three different types of goals any striker would dream of.

The first goal came out of nowhere. A pure goal from a striker. After receiving the ball in the penalty area, he realized that the defender had given him only a few inches of space and maybe a second to maneuver. That was enough for Ramos as he hammered home from the sharpest angle.

Goncalo Ramos from Portugal celebrates. (Reuters)

The second was a poacher’s finish. He made it look so easy, nutmeg from goalkeeper Yann Sommer. His smoking gun celebration said it all.

For his third, he beautifully read a through ball and then ran on to chip the goalkeeper.

“Even in my wildest dreams I didn’t think of being part of the starting team for the knockout stages,” said Ramos, who became the first player to score a hat-trick in his first World Cup start since Miroslav Klose for Germany in 2002. .

Goncalo Ramos from Portugal celebrates his goal. (Reuters)

However, his performance came as no surprise to his teammates.

Manchester United talisman Bruno Fernandes said after the game: “People are not aware of the quality of the Portuguese league. Benfica is doing very well in the Champions League, so people should be aware of Goncalo, of his qualities.

“He’s a player who runs and works a lot, helps the team defensively, he’s the type of striker who is everywhere.

“He had the chance to score three goals, but he is a striker who creates space for others, fights, has the ball and is strong. Today was his day to score the goals and we are happy about that.”

“He is a great talent and not only that,” Bernardo Silva added. “He has the instinct of a striker, he knows where the ball will land to finish the action, but he’s also a worker who always tries to do what’s best for the team and not what’s best for him.”

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