Portugal Romped While Ronaldo Watched
9:18 AM EST on December 7, 2022
Portugal demolished a talented but completely overwhelmed Switzerland on Tuesday, 6-1, in the 2022 World Cup's most dominant display since, well ... since Brazil mopped Doha with South Korea on Monday. Portugal looked great, is what I am saying.
In the 17th minute, Gonçalo Ramos took a pass with his back to the goal on the left side of Switzerland's box, turned outside, and ripped an audacious left-footed strike into the roof of the net. In the 33rd minute, the ancient Pepe soared between two Swiss guys to get his head onto a corner-kick and drill it into the back of the net for his first international goal since he scored in the 2018 World Cup.
A Seleção went insane in the second half. In the 51st minute, Diogo Dalot cut open some space for a low cross with a slick dribble on the right edge of the Swiss box; Ramos coolly one-timed it into the goal to make it 3-0. Four minutes later, sprinting downhill on the counterattack, Ramos made a lovely first-touch turn on a sort of awkward pass to his back foot, then immediately slipped the ball ahead to Raphaël Guerreiro, who composed himself and punched in the fourth. Twelve minutes later, after the Swiss scored their lone consolation goal, the Portuguese sliced right up the middle of Switzerland's formation once again on the counter: Bernardo Silva ahead to João Felix ahead to, who else, Ramos again, who tapped it past the poor Swiss keeper, Yann Sommer, from nearly point-blank range to complete his hat trick and make it 5-1. In stoppage time, the criminally underused Rafael Leão, an 87th-minute substitute, raced up the left side, cut in onto his right foot, and curled a beauty past a frozen and (to be honest, hilariously) defeated Sommer to wrap up the scoring.
When Portugal is roaring downhill like this, unleashing waves on waves of cool guys and deadly, stylish attackers, it feels sort of silly to have left the Portuguese off even quiet internal lists of World Cup favorites. They're extremely good! As they showed on Tuesday, they're also capable of being extremely fun.
Fox network viewers could have missed all of this, as the broadcast stripped its gears in the effort to keep Cristiano Ronaldo in the center of your TV screen for the full 90 minutes. Ronaldo, you see, was on the bench for the first five of those goals, banished there by Portugal manager Fernando Santos until the 73rd minute as penalty for throwing a big temper tantrum when substituted out of the game against South Korea last Friday. Ramos, the hat-trick hero of the day, was his replacement in the starting 11.
If anything, the benching seemed to convince Fox even more of the need to focus on Ronaldo at all times: What gave meaning, apparently, to anything that happened on the pitch was the possibility that Ronaldo would pull a face in response to it. My favorite (which is to say, my least-favorite) iteration of this came when Pepe scored his goal to make it 2-0. Naturally, Portugal's whole team swarmed the 39-year-old, in recognition both of the goal's importance to their World Cup ambitions and of the very strong likelihood that any goal the ancient center back scores will be his final goal in a Portugal shirt. As the mob broke up, there was Ronaldo, in his yellow substitute's vest, peeling away from Pepe ... and the camera stayed on Ronaldo, who had done nothing and was making his way back to his seat on the bench, rather than on the actual game participant who had just scored a goal. Pepe just kinda slipped out of the left side of the frame, as the attention stayed stuck to Ronaldo's back.
I don't know how broadcasts in other nations are handling Portugal's games. As an American, watching Ronaldo's uncanny leatherine rictus fill every third frame of the broadcast of a game he's not even playing in, it's hard not to read this as sharing a genre with NBC's sweaty, patronizing approach to the Olympics, taking for granted that Americans are ignoramuses and morons who can't remember more than two names or faces and must have the Familiarity button mashed for them at all times or they'll wander off to huff some more glue. In fairness, this is not entirely inaccurate. And, to be honest, watching that creepy ghoul pretend to be thrilled as his teammates romped without him did turn out to be one of the minor pleasures of a game that lost all of its on-field dramatic potential shortly after halftime. On the other hand, I dunno, maybe it would be nice to focus on the guys playing in the World Cup, rather than the washed-up dickhead watching them.
But I had a fun and welcome realization, at some point after Ramos's second goal made crystal-clear that Portugal is at the very least as good, if not far better, without Ronaldo. It's been widely reported this week (though not confirmed) that Ronaldo, ejected from Manchester United on bad terms back at the beginning of this tournament and roundly unwanted at European soccer's top levels, may be on the verge of signing a(n insanely lucrative) contract with Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr, to extend his career as a decorative hood ornament. Should that come to pass, it means that whenever Portugal's run in this World Cup ends—even if, horror of horrors, it ends with Ronaldo hoisting the trophy!—you and I might just literally never see Cristiano Ronaldo play soccer ever again.
How sweet that will be. Get this bozo out of my face!