Portugal coach Fernando Santos dropped Cristiano Ronaldo to the bench for the last-16 meeting with Switzerland and was rewarded with a hat-trick from replacement Goncalo Ramos and a stunning team display.
Santos expressed his displeasure at gestures made by Ronaldo when he was substituted in the last group game against South Korea and it was the first time in 31 games stretching back to 2008 that he had not started in a major tournament.
Portugal made light of the 37-year-old’s absence to put it mildly, as 21-year-old Benfica striker Ramos hit the first treble of this tournament on his first international start, to help set up a quarter-final against surprise package Morocco after their win against Spain on penalties.
Ramos started the rout after 17 minutes when he drilled a finish past Swiss keeper Jan Sommer at the near post before veteran 39-year-old defender Pepe doubled Portugal’s lead when he headed home Bruno Fernandes’ corner in the 33rd minute.
The dream full debut continued when Ramos effectively ended the contest with a near post swoop on Diogo Dalot’s cross six minutes after the break, the striker turning provider to set up Raphael Guerriero to round off a sweeping move with a powerful strike four minutes later.
Manchester City defender Manuel Akanji pulled one back for Switzerland but Ramos swiftly got his third with a clever chip, which was the signal for the crowd at Lusail Stadium to noisily demand Ronaldo’s introduction.
Portugal coach Ramos obliged with the game won, Ronaldo entering to rapturous applause, but his team-mates deserve all the acclaim for a high-class performance.
Ronaldo had the ball in the net but was ruled offside so it was another young pretender to his crown, 23-year-old Rafael Leao, who crowned a dazzling display when he curled in the sixth.