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Benched Ronaldo blasted for childish act

There’s possibly never been a situation quite like this in sport.

Can you imagine Tom Brady being benched for an NFL play-off run? LeBron James or Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals? Of course not.

And yet, with Cristiano Ronaldo, that’s where we are, as Portugal qualified for the World Cup quarter-final stages with an emphatic 6-1 victory over Switzerland in which he played virtually no part.

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The decision by Portugal manager Fernando Santos to start 21-year-old Goncalo Ramos – who had less than 45 minutes of international football to his name – ahead of Ronaldo, was bold to say the least.

But as Ramos bagged a hat-trick, the first of this World Cup by any player and the first in the knockout stages since 1990, that call was very quickly vindicated.

The cold truth for Ronaldo was that it was by far Portugal’s best performance of the World Cup to date, and for obvious reasons cameras were trained on him as he sat on the bench watching his team surgically unpick Switzerland without him.

While he played the happy teammate for most of the match, there were unguarded moments when he looked frustrated – Portugal’s first goal a prime example as the world feed TV director beamed a shot of him looking sour as his teammates celebrated without him.

Then there was the immediate aftermath to the final whistle, with Ronaldo cutting a lonely figure as the first Portuguese player up the tunnel, while his teammates stayed on the field to celebrate a momentous victory.

That came soon after his introduction to the match, with Portugal already 5-1 up. With the result well and truly decided, Ronaldo was brought on to huge applause from the crowd – but did little other than score a goal from an offside position and smash a free kick into a wall.

TV pundit Gary Neville, who played with Ronaldo at Manchester United, praised the single-mindedness that had motivated him throughout his career, but said that recent displays of petulance were doing him no favors.

“There comes a point where you still have to think about the collective and that’s your teammates in the dressing room,” Neville said.

“You’re leaving the game early like you did at United twice, stomping off the other day.

“It’s coming to that point where he’s not accepting the end of his career very well.”

Ramos smashes one in from tight angle

That assessment from Neville followed his pre-match analysis of Ronaldo’s benching, with the England great saying the twilight of the Portugal megastar’s career was getting hard to watch.

“There are a lot of fans of Cristiano Ronaldo who aren’t willing to tell him the truth and I think he does need to listen to the truth,” Neville said before the match. “It’s becoming a little bit of a scruffy end.”

Ronaldo is currently without a club after a very public spat ended his second stint in Manchester last month, and before that he left Juventus in similarly bad circumstances.

“Is the Juventus manager wrong? Is the Manchester United manager wrong? And now is the Portugal manager wrong?” Neville asked.

“There’s three of them that now have done the same thing with him.”

Pepe heads home Portugal’s second

Australia’s Craig Foster praised Santos’ managerial decision.

“It’s a huge call. I think it was reasonably obvious to everyone, including most of Portugal that he just wasn’t contributing as much and that what Ronaldo has to give now at club and national level is off the bench,” he said on SBS’s post-game show.

“He’s going to be disappointed he’s not on. That’s his personality. That’s how you win five Ballon d’Ors … he has to be delighted that they’re winning. Because he gets more game time.

“He wants to equal Eusebio. He needs to stay in the competition and he wants to win this competition. Messi is still involved in the competition.

“For him, wouldn’t say it’s perfect this morning, but it’s still ideal. He’s still alive. He’s got an opportunity to break more records.”

Ex-England forward Ian Wright said it was clear how little Ronaldo was enjoying what should be a joyous situation.

“At the end of the day, as great as he is, it’s a team game,” Wright said.

“He’s not playing well the last two years. It’s not ending well, and it doesn’t seem like he’s enjoying it at the minute. He doesn’t seem happy.

“I don’t know how many people have said no to him. When’s the last time he’s heard ‘no’ in his life?”

Portugal will play surprise package Morocco in a quarter-final on Sunday at 2am (AEDT).

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