It got really loud in the stadium in the 73rd minute. For once not because a goal had been scored. The thunderous cheers erupted because a substitution was imminent. Cristiano Ronaldo got ready for the last 20 minutes. The superstar initially only sat on the bench in the World Cup round of 16 against Switzerland. A place that was as foreign to him as fast food until the 6-1 thrashing of the Confederates in the Portuguese national team.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos did without his superstar in the starting XI. He justified the spectacular decision, among other things, with Ronaldo’s behavior in the final group game against South Korea. The 37-year-old had not behaved as a team player after the 1: 2 and left the pitch cursing.
So Ronaldo’s place in the round of 16 was initially the bench. Santos wanted nothing to do with demotion. “It was a question of strategy for this game. Nothing more than that,” he said. Ronaldo is a professional and will give everything for the team if he is substituted on.
There Ronaldo sat and tried not to smile. He chewed his fingernails most of the time and stared at the field almost motionless. When the score was already 5:1 and the game had long since been decided, Santos brought the 37-year-old on. Even before Ronaldo entered the field, defender Pepe took off his captain’s armband and put it on Ronaldo’s arm.
CR7 briefly high-fived Goncalo Ramos, who left the pitch for him. Ramos, who took Ronaldo’s place in the starting XI, could not have done a better job. The striker almost single-handedly decided the game with a hat-trick. There are few arguments that Ronaldo will displace him from the starting eleven in the quarter-finals against Morocco (Saturday, 4 p.m., in the WELT live ticker).
“I don’t know what to say. It’s a dream come true,” Ramos said. The attacker did not want to predict whether he would play for Ronaldo again in the quarterfinals. “I don’t decide that, other people decide.”
In the 20 minutes that remained, Ronaldo desperately tried to score his ninth World Cup goal. But until a goal, which he marked from a clear offside position, the clubless offensive player did nothing.