Cristiano Ronaldo was spotted leaving the field before any of his teammates on Tuesday in what many believe is a telling sign that he's on the outer with the Portugal side at the World Cup. The $730 million mega-star was sensationally dropped for the last-16 clash with Switzerland in Qatar, with 21-year-old striker Goncalo Ramos starting in his place and scoring a hat-trick.
Ronaldo watched on from the bench as Ramos put Switzerland to the sword, before coming on with just 17 minutes left as Portugal won 6-1. Portugal coach Fernando Santos had earlier criticised Ronaldo's reaction to being subbed off in their previous game against South Korea.
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If the sight of Ramos scoring a scintillating hat-trick wasn't already bad enough for Ronaldo, he has since come under fire for his actions after the full-time whistle. The 37-year-old could be seen briefly celebrating with teammates before going over to thank Portuguese fans in the crowd.
However he then turned and walked straight off the field without any of his teammates. The rest of the Portugal team stayed on the field for a lengthy period, which many have interpreted as a sign that Ronaldo might be on the outer.
“I don’t know what Ronaldo is doing here," Aussie great Craig Foster said on SBS coverage. "He’s heading off the field first. The Ronaldo story goes on. Of course he’s going to be disappointed he’s not on. That’s his personality. That’s how you win five Ballon d’ors.”
However Foster defended Ronaldo's reaction and said he would have been pleased for his teammates. “He has to be delighted that they’re winning,” Foster said. “He gets more game time. He wants to equal Eusébio. He needs to stay in the competition and he wants to win this competition. Messi is still involved in the competition.
“For him, I wouldn’t say it’s perfect this morning but it’s still ideal. He’s still alive. He’s got an opportunity to break more records.”
Some had a different interpretation of Ronaldo leaving the field without his teammates. His actions were derided as 'shameful' and 'pathetic' on social media.
Fernando Santos reveals why Ronaldo was benched
Santos later revealed his reasons for relegating Ronaldo to the bench, saying: “Cristiano and Ramos are different players. There is no problem with our captain. We’ve been friends for years. We spoke before the game and he had no issue with my decision.”
Santos said Ronaldo's role is yet to be decided heading into the quarter-finals. “That is still something that has to be defined," he admitted. “I have a very close relationship with him – I always have, I have known him since he was 19 years old.
“This relationship only develops, Ronaldo and I never interpret the human aspect of that of manager and player (in relation to) what we have to do during the match. I will always consider in my role that he is an important player to have in the team.”
When asked if Ronaldo would play against Morocco in the quarters, Santos said: “Ronaldo will definitely (be involved), all the players on the bench can be used, if they are not in the starting line-up they can play later. It is important to look at the example of this player’s history, he is one of the best players in the world at playing professionally, being captain – all we have to do is think about this team collectively.”
Ramos had played just 33 minutes of senior football before Tuesday's masterpiece and only made his international debut three weeks ago. He scored his first goal in the 17th minute with his fourth touch of the game, before finding the back of the net again in the 55th and 67th minutes.
“We have to admit that our opponent today was better, faster and more offensive,” Switzerland coach Murat Yakin said. “Unfortunately, our game plan didn’t work out and we have to accept that and I congratulate our opponents on this win. Defeat is painful, we are sad about how we played.
“We had a clear game plan, we had practised it, we also had test games and the team was familiar with the system and formation. Whether Ronaldo is playing or not, all of our players are able to play football but the opponent got into the game better and we didn’t manage to get a good start, we saw that many things didn’t work out for us.”
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