DOHA – Goncalo Ramos was thrown into the eye of the storm, but it was Portugal’s 21-year-old striker who brought the thunder, blasting his country into the World Cup quarter-finals.
On a shock first World Cup start in place of Cristiano Ronaldo, the Benfica forward scored a brilliant hat-trick in the 6-1 romp over Switzerland to set up a date with Morocco on Saturday.
Known as the “Pistoleiro” for his gun-toting celebration, Ramos shot his way into world football’s consciousness, having only made his Portugal debut in a late tune-up friendly against Nigeria.
The Benfica striker scored and provided an assist as a substitute as Portugal won 4-0 and perhaps that impact earned him the role of Ronaldo’s replacement on Tuesday, when they won big again.
Ramos sent a scorching shot into the top corner to open the scoring, his second was a poacher’s finish at the near post and he confidently dinked the third over Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer.
“Not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d score three goals in my first World Cup knockout match,” said Ramos, after being named man of the match.
It was the first time in 16 years that Ronaldo had been a substitute at a World Cup, but on Saturday it might happen again — Ramos is expected to start the quarter-final against Morocco.
Portugal played far more fluidly in attack with Ramos leading the line, his movement a boon for the attacking midfielders behind him.
“It seems difficult to me, very difficult indeed, for a player who performed as well as he did against Switzerland to be left out of the next game,” said former Portugal striker Rui Aguas.
“It’s not impossible, but it seems difficult for that to happen.”
Ronaldo became the first player to score at five men’s World Cups at the tournament, but Ramos showed no nerves when asked to replace him.
Crowds at the World Cup have cooed over 37-year-old Ronaldo, even though he has struggled to make an impact, but Ramos gave them a quick and easy distraction.
The former Manchester United and Real Madrid striker may be the leading men’s international goalscorer, but he has never netted in a World Cup knockout match.
Ramos has, three times.
Ramos is used to being the replacement, having filled the gap left by Darwin Nunez at club level this season, after the Uruguayan signed for Liverpool.
Last season he played in a support role to help Nunez, but this season Ramos leads the line for Benfica and both he and the Eagles are thriving.
The forward is hard-working, a mobile attacker, keen to make runs, even if sometimes they only serve as decoys to create space for his team-mates.
Ramos has listed Ronaldo as his idol, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robert Lewandowski as other reference points to follow.
The striker has 14 goals in 21 appearances, helping his team top a Champions League group including Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus, and lead the Portuguese league by eight points from Porto, in second-place.
Porto winger Otavio joked that he hoped another club would see Ramos’s goals against Switzerland and buy him, to improve his side’s odds in the title race.
Ramos came from Benfica’s impressive academy, the latest on a conveyor belt of talent, including former graduates Bernardo Silva, Joao Cancelo and Joao Felix.
Those players are household names and in Qatar Ramos has found the fast track to join them. – AFP