Portugal’s 6-1 win over Switzerland in the Round of 16 of the World Cup could well be considered a watershed moment in the history of Portuguese football. Gonçalo Ramos grabbed a sensational hat-trick – something that should guarantee him a start in the next game, but the fact that it came in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo made it more fitting.
It was expected to be a stiff game for Portugal but Ronaldo being on bench made sure that no one player was the focal point of all their attacks. Instead of having to constantly supply hurried final balls to Ronaldo, the likes of Joao Felix, Bruno Fernandes, Ramos and Bernardo Silva could operate between the lines and exchange passes with each other, while knowing that all of them are on the same wavelength.
They never had to play the quick balls in-behind for someone like Ronaldo to potentially get to in what is usually a very high-risk approach and makes sure that the team using that approach has a limited control of the game, as it comes with the risk of losing the ball quickly.
Joao Felix sparkled and sparkled much more than he can at Atletico Madrid. Bruno Fernandes played without the load of having to set someone else in-behind and they were helped by Ramos acting as a wall striker, who wouldn’t demand the ball to be played beyond the last line and had the technical ability to exchange quick passes with them.
And that is an approach which suits the players Portugal have, with Rafael Leao not even regularly involved yet. Having to constantly play balls in-behind isn’t an approach that will bring the best out of them, especially considering that the pangs of age make sure that Ronaldo doesn’t even get close to those through balls that he demands for themselves. Even if he does, getting into the right goalscoring positions and finishing chances is barely guaranteed anymore.
If Ramos doesn’t start in the next game, it will be the most unfair thing that has happened in the World Cup so far. After quite a long while, Portugal looked like a team that can play sparkling football and that has to continue.