Cristiano Ronaldo was in unfamiliar territory, sitting on the bench as Portugal’s match at the World Cup began.
It was the first time the soccer legend did not start a FIFA World Cup match for Portugal since 2006 in the group stage. Ronaldo, the only player to ever score a goal in five different World Cups, eventually got onto the pitch. It was just 74 minutes later than normally expected.
Portugal manager Fernando Santos elected to sit Ronaldo following the star’s displeasure with being substituted in Friday’s match. When Ronaldo finally got off the bench to check in during the 74th minute on Tuesday, the crowd cheered as the 37-year-old soccer legend approached the sideline with Portugal holding a four-goal lead in what became a 6-1 victory over Switzerland in the round of 16 matchup at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The crowd again cheered when Ronaldo got his first touch on the ball. He then took a free kick in the 76th minute, but his attempt was blocked by the Switzerland wall. Ronaldo was later whistled for a rather blatant offside after breaking free and firing into the back of the net, as Portugal’s all-time leading scorer was denied his first ever knockout-stage goal.
That was about the extent of Ronaldo’s on-field activity, having spent the majority of the match as a cheerleader. And contrary to some misinformation circulating on social media, he did in fact cheer his team’s goals while on the bench.
It took Ronaldo’s replacement, 21-year-old Goncalo Ramos, just 17 minutes to score his first career World Cup goal, firing a left-footed shot inside the near post to give Portugal a 1-0 lead over Switzerland.
The broadcast eventually cut to Ronaldo, who at the time was sitting rather emotionlessly on the bench. That, however, was because it was after the team had celebrated.
Prior to that, Ronaldo took part in the celebration, jumping on top of the pile as the team mobbed Ramos at the corner of the pitch.
Ronaldo again celebrated when 39-year-old teammate Pepe became the second-oldest player to score in a World Cup, giving Portugal a 2-0 advantage.
Ramos scored again in the 51st minute and then recorded a hat trick in the 67th minute, making Santos’ decision to bench Ronaldo look like a wise one.
Ronaldo and Ramos embraced after the match.
The benching capped what has been a tumultuous few weeks for Ronaldo, Portugal’s all-time leader in caps with 196 and goals with 118. Days prior to the start of the World Cup, he mutually parted ways with Manchester United after he criticized the club and manager Erik ten Hag during a television interview with Piers Morgan.
Ronaldo, a non-factor in Qatar outside of a penalty kick goal, was visibly displeased after being replaced in the 65th minute of Portugal’s group stage finale on Friday and later criticized by Santos for his reaction.
A survey conducted by Portuguese newspaper A Bola showed that 70 percent of respondents wanted the longtime fan-favorite to be benched.
Reports surfaced Monday that Ronaldo was nearing a deal with Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr for two-and-a-half years with a value of up to $200 million per season.
Then came his benching on Tuesday.
Portugal, seeking its first ever World Cup title, advances to play Morocco on Saturday in the quarterfinals. Based on Tuesday’s result, Ronaldo is likely to be back on the bench when the match kicks off.
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