IS Cristiano Ronaldo really a changed man at this Qatar World Cup?
From an overall behavioural point of view, it looks like he has turned over a new leaf especially after he was left out of the Portugal starting XI at a major tournament for the first time since 2008.
This was when Portugal hammered Switzerland 6-1 to set up a quarter final with Morocco.
Perhaps it was a shrewd tactical move as Portugal boss Fernando Santos benched Ronaldo for the last 16 tie in Qatar after the 37-year-old started all three group games.
Surprisingly, the decision paid off handsomely as his replacement, Goncalo Ramos, scored a hat-trick in a clinical 6-1 demolition of the Swiss.
Ramos, a 21-year-old striker for Benfica, was making just his fourth appearance for the national side, but dare I say he was outstanding. He blasted into the roof of the net from a tight angle to make it 1-0, slotted in Diogo Dalot’s cross for his second and dinked over Yan Sommer to complete an eye-catching hat-trick.
Ronaldo, for the record, came off the bench for Joao Felix in the 73rd minute, with the score at 5-1. But to be fair, he did not make an impact, with Rafael Leao the player to complete the rout after Pepe and Raphael Guerreiro also netted for Portugal and Manuel Akanji got a consolation for Switzerland.
EARLIER TANTRUMS FROM RONALDO
Whatever, the veteran striker was delighted for his team-mates unlike his tantrums showed at Manchester United.
Alongside a picture of him celebrating Leao’s goal, he wrote on Instagram : “Incredible day for Portugal, with a historic result in the biggest competition in world football. Luxury exhibition of a team full of talent and youth. Our selection is to be congratulated. The dream is alive! Until the end! Strength, Portugal!”
Credit to Ramos, too, as the young striker with 14 goals in 21 games for Benfica this season has nicely carried that form into the World Cup.
Ramos’ inclusion meant Ronaldo did not start a match for Portugal at a major tournament for the first time in 31 games – a streak which had stretched back to 2008.
Ronaldo is currently without a club after seeing his contract with Manchester United terminated last month. He is reportedly close to agreeing to join Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr, who are willing to pay him a colossal £173million per year.
The media interest around Ronaldo and his next club has irritated Santos, who has been forced to field questions about his star striker’s future in the build-up to the match. “I don’t know, I haven’t talked to him about it,” said the Portugal boss.
“I have spoken with the players but it has nothing to do with this issue. He didn’t even know, he knew a little while ago. It is his decision, his question. He is completely focused on the World Cup, on helping the team.”
Whatever happens behind the scenes, big salutes to Santos and bigger pats on the back for Ronaldo, to show the creditable off-the-field form in inspiring his team.
* Suresh Nair is an award-winning sports journalist who is also a qualified international coach and international referee instructor.
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