Portugal boast one of the most international of followings at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. Cheering them on as they overpowered Switzerland on Tuesday were Indians, Japanese, Koreans, Macedonians, Italians, Canadians, Americans and Mexicans, who mixed their national-team colours with those of the Iberian side, many of them wearing the famous No7 jersey.
There is no question that Cristiano Ronaldo is a big reason why Portugal are a hit with fans around the world. So it must have come as quite a surprise to many in the crowd at Lusail Stadium when they found that coach Fernando Santos had chosen Goncalo Ramos to lead the attack instead of the great man, who was relegated to the bench.
Could the 21-year-old cope with the pressure? Here he was, making the first World Cup start of his career, in place of the only man in history to score at five editions of the tournament, spearheading the front line of a side trying to reach the last eight for only the third time ever, a side that had lost its last two last-16 ties.
It did not take the youngster long to answer that question, 17 minutes in fact. Receiving possession inside the area, the centre-forward showed he knew where the goal was by switching the ball from right foot to left and thundering a shot measured at 106 km/h past Yann Sommer and into the roof of the net.
It was a goal that brought the fans, who had come to see Ronaldo, to their feet, their only sight of the legend so far coming when he appeared on the big screen during the playing of the Portuguese national anthem.
Emerging into the limelight from shadows cast by more illustrious team-mates is nothing new for Ramos. When he shared attacking duties at Benfica with Darwin Nunez, the Portuguese occupied a more withdrawn role. But now that the Uruguayan has left for Liverpool, Ramos is playing closer to goal and thriving.
Ramos does not shy away from comparisons with Thomas Muller, with whom he shares a goal celebration that has earned the rising Portuguese star the nickname Pistoleiro (“Gunfighter”). The striker has even said in the past that he has things in common with the Germany star, further proof that he is not overawed by the big names.
The No26 struck two more in the second half, pointing the way in a 6-1 win for a side that had not scored more than twice in a World Cup knockout-phase game since the match for third place at England 1966. His hat-trick was also the first in the tournament’s knockout rounds since Italy 1990.
“Not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d score three goals in my first World Cup knockout match,” said the man of the moment in the post-match press conference.
Fernando Santos did not disappoint the fans who had come to see Ronaldo and had begun to chant his name 15 minutes into the second half, bringing the No7 on and giving Ramos a deserved rest.
They left Lusail Stadium happy, having seen their hero in action. But never will they forget that they also saw the Goncalo Ramos Show.