LUSAIL, Qatar (Reuters) -Portugal’s Goncalo Ramos rose to the occasion on his first World Cup start to net a hat-trick in a 6-1 demolition of Switzerland on Tuesday, sending his side through to the quarter-finals for the first time in 16 years and setting up a clash with Morocco.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos had benched the country’s all-time top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, tasking Benfica forward Ramos with leading the line despite the 21-year-old making his debut just three days before the World Cup in a friendly.
Ramos had played only 10 minutes as a substitute in Qatar but the youngster looked like he belonged on the big stage with a memorable performance for Portugal, who did not miss Ronaldo – a late substitute who had a goal ruled out for offside.
“Cristiano Ronaldo talks to me and everyone in the team. He’s our leader and always tries to help,” Ramos said after netting the first hat-trick of the tournament in Qatar.
“I don’t know if I will start the next game, that’s up to the coach, I have to work as hard as I can and then we’ll see.
After a tepid start, the game came to life when Ramos opened the scoring in the 17th minute by picking up Joao Felix’s incisive pass before blasting the ball into the top corner from a tight angle to put the Portuguese ahead.
They doubled their lead through skipper Pepe when the 39-year-old timed his leap to perfection to rise above the two Swiss centre backs and head home from a Bruno Fernandes corner in the 33rd minute, with Yann Sommer well beaten yet again.
At the other end, Switzerland striker Breel Embolo was frustrated by the Portugal defence despite the odd surging run into the final third, while their best chance of the half came when Xherdan Shaqiri’s free kick was pushed out for a corner.
Sommer, returning from illness, did well to deny Ramos his second goal of the half with a fingertip save from a counter-attack as the Portuguese went in with a 2-0 lead at the break.
However, the beleaguered keeper could do nothing when Diogo Dalot sent in a cross six minutes after the restart with Ramos in the right place again at the near post to slip the ball between Sommer’s legs and give Portugal a three-goal cushion.
“We did not show the mentality that we usually bring onto the pitch,” Sommer said.
“It is a very bitter evening. We gave the opponent far too much space. In a few situations I did not look too good either. This is not the way to survive against such opponents.”
Portugal piled on the misery in the 55th minute when they carved open the Swiss defence with another flowing counter-attack in which Ramos found Raphael Guerreiro in acres of space and the full back fired the ball past Sommer to make it 4-0.
Switzerland got a goal back just before the hour mark when defender Manuel Akanji sneaked in unmarked at the far post from a corner to slip a shot home after Portugal failed to clear.
But the vibrant Portuguese attack roared back when Ramos was set through on goal by Felix and, just when it looked like he had lost the ball with a heavy touch, the forward chipped it over the onrushing Sommer to complete a well-deserved hat-trick.
With victory wrapped up, the Lusail Stadium crowd implored Santos to bring on Ronaldo and reserved the loudest cheers of the night for when he trotted onto the pitch in the 74th minute.
But the 37-year-old forward did little to affect proceedings, firing a free kick into the wall before the linesman raised his flag to deny Ronaldo his second goal of the tournament after he made a run from an offside position.
Substitute Leao then put the icing on the cake in added time with a curling effort into the far corner of the net as the stranded Sommer’s shoulders sank while he helplessly watched the ball sail past him into the back of the net.
“Today we have to apologise to all of Switzerland, that was not our true face tonight. We’re very disappointed,” Shaqiri said.
“We were shown our limits tonight. The coach gave us a plan but it unfortunately did not work out for us. We lost the game in the first half and we were always a step behind.”
Reporting by Rohith Nair in Lusail, Qatar, Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann and Janina Nuno Rios; Editing by Ken Ferris