Fernando Santos says leaving Cristiano Ronaldo off his World Cup last-16 roster was “strategic and nothing more.” Santos was unhappy with Ronaldo’s reaction to being sidelined for the group stage finale against South Korea, but he maintained it didn’t matter. Santos expects a “very difficult” quarterfinal match against Morocco, but his team is in terrific shape. Ramos never imagined a World Cup hat trick.
Fernando Santos: Dropping Ronaldo was ‘strategic’
Goncalo Ramos claimed he never dreamed of starting a World Cup quarterfinal match, let alone scoring three goals. The 21-year-old attacker started ahead of five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo and won the game. Ramos was 2 when Ronaldo made his Portugal debut and has often praised him.
The match’s man of the match was questioned about how the dressing room and Ronaldo reacted to Santos’ surprise team decision. Ramos was making his fourth national team appearance after playing 10 minutes in two group games. He made his debut in a pre-World Cup friendly against Nigeria on November 17 and scored 15 minutes later.
Algarve-born forward has risen to prominence with Benfica after Darwin Nunez’s move to Liverpool. He’s scored 14 goals in 21 games since assuming his new role. Should he maintain his remarkable impact on Portugal against Morocco, he’ll be a target of the same big-money approach that saw Nunez go. For now, he’s focused on helping Santos, and he’s not taking his starting role for granted.
“I said that it was closed and it was closed. Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the best players in the world playing professionally and as a captain … so we have to just think about this team collectively,” he said.
Asked whether it was the most difficult decision of his career to leave out Ronaldo, Santos said: “I have a very close relationship I always have, known him since he was 19 at Sporting, and then for years here in the national squad,” he said.
“Ronaldo and I never confuse the human and personal aspect with the coach and player relationship. He is a very important player in the team,” he said.
“If we can continue like this and improve some things then that is a good path,” he added.
“Not even in my wildest dreams did I think of making my first start in a World Cup knockout game and scoring three goals,” he said.
“But we have to think game by game and prepare for the game (quarterfinal with Morocco). This result doesn t matter now. We re going to go all out in the next game.”
“My favorite position is forward, but last year I was asked to play in support of Darwin. It s clear that with his departure a space opened up for me. It s great to now have the role that I love the most,” he said in a recent interview.
“That is something that doesn t concern me. I always work to the fullest and hopefully that is evident,” he said.
“Honestly no one in the team talked about it. Cristiano, as captain, did what he does, he helped, he talked to us, not only to myself but to my teammates,” he said.