LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo was dropped from the starting XI for Portugal’s game against Switzerland in the round of 16 at the World Cup on Tuesday.
The move came a day after his coach expressed frustration with his team captain’s attitude in the last game. Gonçalo Ramos, a 21-year-old forward who made his international debut three weeks ago, made his first career start for Portugal at the Lusail Stadium, replacing Ronaldo.
To loud cheers, Ronaldo jogged onto the field to warm up before the game. He came out alone after the starters, led the substitutes onto the field, and kicked the ball around with them in light drills.
After warming up, Ronaldo walked through the tunnel to the locker room and stopped to take a picture with a volunteer. He bent down and put his arm around her for the photo.
He smiled as he came through the tunnel again before the game started in the reserve yellow jersey. Ronaldo first took an empty seat in the dugout and then took his place on the field for the national anthem. He received a rousing cheer, which elicited a small smile from the superstar as it was shown on the big screens at the stadium.
This is expected to be Ronaldo’s last World Cup.
Ramos, who plays for Portuguese club Benfica, made his debut for Portugal in a warm-up match against Nigeria last month and scored his only international goal to date. He replaced Ronaldo late in the World Cup opener against Ghana and again against Uruguay.
Ramos has scored 21 goals for Benfica this year.
João Cancelo, a full-back who started all three group stage games, was also left out of the starting XI.
Ronald was benched after showing apparent displeasure at being removed from Friday’s game against South Korea.
The 37-year-old forward opened the tournament with a goal against Ghana, becoming the first player to score in five different World Cups. But he was ineffective in Portugal’s final two games of group play, being pulled midway through the second half from a 2-1 defeat by South Korea.
Ronaldo’s body language showed the superstar was upset at being taken out of the game – something Portugal manager Fernando Santos was silent about for almost three days.
Finally, in his press conference on Monday, Santos conceded that Ronaldo’s attitude in the game against South Korea was the only distraction – of many – that had pushed him too far.
Ahead of Portugal’s first World Cup game, Ronaldo severed ties with Manchester United and is reportedly being courted by a Saudi Arabian team with the promise of an exorbitant paycheck, and a poll in Portugal revealed fans in his home country wanted the superstar exits the lineup.
“I didn’t like it, not at all. I really didn’t like it,” Santos said of Ronaldo’s poor attitude on Monday when he was pulled out of the game against South Korea. “We fixed that internally and that was it.”
Portugal defender Rúben Dias, meanwhile, begged the Portuguese media to help “create unity” rather than division in the camp. It was the poll by Portuguese daily O Bola that showed the home fans were fed up with Ronaldo and preferred him not to play against Switzerland.
It’s not unprecedented that Ronaldo is getting less playing time due to the fading of the aging superstar of late. He barely played in the Premier League for United in the first half of the season and Santos dropped him from the Portugal line-up for a Nations League game against Spain in March.
With Ronaldo, Portugal have reached the last 16 of the World Cup in four of their five tournaments, but he has never played in a World Cup final. Portugal lost to France in the semifinals in 2006 – the deepest result Ronaldo has ever achieved in a World Cup.
Despite scoring in five tournaments, he has only scored eight goals in 20 World Cup appearances. His 118 goals in international matches is a world record for men, but Ronaldo has never scored in the knockout stages of the World Cup.
Lionel Messi, Ronaldo’s biggest rival over the years, has scored three goals so far at this World Cup and helped Argentina reach the quarter-finals. Messi has nine World Cup goals in his career and, like Ronaldo, has never won the tournament.
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