Soccer  

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal role yet ‘to be defined’

LUSAIL, Qatar — Portugal coach Fernando Santos said Cristiano Ronaldo’s ongoing role in his team is “something which has to be defined” after dropping the 37-year-old for Tuesday’s 6-1 thrashing of Switzerland in the World Cup round of 16.

A hat trick from Ronaldo’s replacement, 21-year-old Goncalo Ramos, in addition to goals from Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro and substitute Rafael Leao set up a quarterfinal with Morocco on Saturday.

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Ronaldo was restricted to a 17-minute cameo after reacting negatively to being taken off in Portugal’s final group match — a 2-1 loss to South Korea.

Asked about Ronaldo’s future status within the team, Santos said: “That is still something which has to be defined. I have a very close relationship with him, I always have. I’ve known him since he was 19 at Sporting and then he started to develop in the national squad when I arrived in 2014.

“Ronaldo and I never misinterpret the human and personal aspect with that of manager and player. I will always consider that he is a very important player to have in the team.

“This [disciplinary matter] is something that is finished and solved, it is also important to look at the example of this player’s history. He is one of the best players in the world and therefore all we have to do is come [together] collectively.”

Asked to explain Ronaldo’s absence from the starting line-up — the first time he has failed to start a Portugal match at a tournament since 2008 — Santos claimed it was purely tactical.

“Andre [Silva] who is a great player who plays more advanced, Cristiano is more fixed, he stays in a more determined area towards the box. Goncalo has different characteristics. He is very dynamic and the observations I made and that is what he ended up showing us.

“It is nothing new, he already came on in two matches, but I would say as Andre also played in a previous match, I have three players I fully trust. For each match I will use which player I see for my strategy. All the players on the bench can be used [against Morocco [even] if they are not in the starting XI.”

Ramos paid homage to Ronaldo following the match and said he never expected to be included in Santos’ starting lineup against Switzerland in the win-or-go-home game.

“Not even in my wildest dreams did I think about being part of the starting team for the knockout stage,” Ramos said. “Cristiano Ronaldo talks to me and everyone in the team. He’s our leader and always tries to help.

“I don’t know if I will start the next game, that’s up to the coach. I have to work as hard as I can and then we’ll see.”