World Cup 2022: Portugal plays as a team without Cristiano Ronaldo

Fernando Santos benched CR7 in their Round of 16 meeting with Switzerland, earning their biggest win at Qatar 2022. 

Crisitiano Ronaldo

In Ronaldo’s absence, Goncalo Ramos claimed the plaudits with his hat trick against the Swiss. Raphael Guerreiro and Raphael Leao also got on the scoresheet with veteran defender Pepe also chipping in. 

Following the 6-1 victory, the Navigators’ best XI has been a hot topic. Is Ronaldo their best attacking outlet or does he handicap their performances? This tale has been repeated at CR7’s former club, Manchester United, where the star athlete came at loggerheads with manager Erik ten Haag. 

Portugal has a quarter-final meeting with Morocco and needs to answer these questions for their World Cup ambitions. The Atlas Lions put up an impenetrable wall to deny Spain in their Round of 16 meeting and will be difficult to overcome. 

Jose Fonte shared the Portugal dressing room with CR7 and believes they are being hamstrung by persisting with the star. The Navigators have to play through Ronaldo when he is on the pitch and play to each other’s strength without him: as a team should.   

“Portugal have the quality to do this in every game, but we have to be honest – just his presence on the field makes the players of the national team unconsciously and automatically have to play for him and always give him the ball,” Fonte said, according to A Bola (via The Mail ).

“For being who he is, for what he has done and what he is still capable of doing.

“When he is not there, Portugal plays more as a team and that was seen (against Switzerland). They played fluidly, without a single focal point, everyone contributed and it was beautiful to see.”

Santos’ gambit could have backfired

Portugal opened their scoring in Qatar thanks to their ever-present talisman. Ronaldo earned and converted the penalty against Ghana but has struggled to add to his tally since. 

Santos’ punt worked against Switzerland as Portugal stretched their rivals across the pitch. Ronaldo was not the only casualty in the meeting with Joao Cancelo and Ruben Neves also dropping to the bench.

CR7’s former teammate turned pundit, Gary Neville, believes the gambit could have backfired and they do not have more chances to take at this stage of the competition. 

“It could have gone badly wrong for him and before kick-off we predicted Switzerland would do well, but Portugal are purring now this tournament,” Neville told ITV.

“You think about how Brazil played last night, Portugal tonight, England, France, the teams have obviously played weaker opposition – their last chance to do so now, really. 

“He took a chance, Santos, not just leaving out Cristiano Ronaldo but [Ruben] Neves, [Joao] Cancelo, but Cristiano Ronaldo was the big one and it’s paid off for him in abundance because they’ve put in a brilliant team performance, they were outstanding, Portugal.”

Crisitiano RonaldoThis will be the third meeting between Portugal and Morocco at the World Cup. The first finished in favour of the Atlas Lions, who earned a memorable 3-0 victory in Italia 1986. The Navigators earned their revenge twelve years later, scrapping by with a 1-0 victory.

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