The Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) denied that star forward Cristiano Ronaldo had threatened to leave the World Cup squad after being named as a substitute against Switzerland earlier this week.
The 37-year-old striker was dropped from the starting lineup for Tuesday’s last 16 clash with his replacement, Benfica forward Gonçalo Ramos, stepping up to score a sublime hat-trick as Portugal thumped the Swiss 6-1.
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The latest from Portuguese publication Record claims the striker had previously threatened to leave the squad following a conversation with manager Fernando Santos.
“The FPF clarifies that at no time did the captain of the national team, Cristiano Ronaldo, threaten to leave the national team during the stay in Qatar,” read the statement.
Ronaldo watches on as Portugal belts Switzerland
“Every day, Cristiano Ronaldo is building up a unique track record of service to the national team and the country, which must be respected and which speaks to the unquestionable degree of commitment to the national team.”
Ronaldo also took to social media just hours after the FPF statement to reaffirm his commitment to the team, saying: “A group too united to be broken by external forces. A nation too brave to be afraid of any adversary. A team in the true sense of the word, who will fight for the dream to the end! Believe with us!”
Portugal midfielder Otavio agreed with the football icon.
“Cristiano is right,” he told reporters on Thursday. “The group is united and the news from outside is not going to interfere,” he said. “We’re focused on playing for Portugal — and winning.”
The 27-year-old Otávio said he had not witnessed any arguments in the team, but added that “every player is a bit bitter when he doesn’t get to play and that’s perfectly natural. It’s not just Cristiano, it’s every player.”
He noted that Ronaldo is always in the news.
Ronaldo walks off as Portugal celebrate
“So sometimes, the details of the images only show the negative and not the positive,” he said. ”Cristiano is an example for all, he’s our captain, and even after he knew that he wouldn’t play, he was one of the ones who supported the team the most. We’re all with him.”
Against Switzerland, Ramos — who came in for Ronaldo, to the shock of many, and scored a hat trick on his debut — stretched the opposition defense more than Ronaldo typically does. He gave Felix, playing just behind Ramos, more space to work in and he produced one of his best performances for Portugal.
Santos went through the attributes of the three strikers in his squad — Ronaldo, Ramos and Andre Silva — and said that while Ronaldo is a player “who is more fixed and plays in a more determined area,” Ramos is “more dynamic.”
So dropping Ronaldo requires a shift in game plan. It might have worked against Switzerland, but will it work against Morocco?
Looking to become the first African team to reach the World Cup semifinals, Morocco is expected to defend deep against Portugal and play on the counterattack. Santos has to make the call whether this is more of a game for Ronaldo — one of soccer’s greatest ever players — or to stick with the player who just had the game of his life.
It’s not a bad situation to be in, and leaves Portugal as a very dangerous proposition either way.
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